Falling forward with a grateful heart

  • Written by Claudia Parker

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Submitted photo

Christian Perry celebrates with his son, Mykael Perry, after he graduated from Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights.

When a single father and Trinity Christian College graduate was struggling to find a job, he created a company to employ himself.

Christian D. Perry, of Palos Heights, is the founder of a youth empowerment organization called “Grind Grately.”

“We give youth the tools they need to improve their attitudinal fitness, so they can live their most emotionally prosperous lives,” explained Perry. “We conduct workshops for students in high school and college. We also offer mentorship programs with small groups.”

Perry said it’s not his success that qualifies him to speak before large audiences, it’s his failures.

“I own my story,” Perry stated with confidence. “I’m not what has happened to me. There aren’t many people who have been through what I’ve been through and kept an optimistic disposition.”

Perry’s troubles began over a decade ago while in his sophomore year of high school. “I’d just come from a weekend fishing trip with several men from my family,” he recalled. “There was about 10 of us total.”

Perry said upon returning to school the following week, he put on some pants that he worn on that fishing trip. Unbeknownst to him, he had left a small fishing knife in his pocket.

“It must have fallen from my clothing when I changed into my gym shorts,” said Perry.

His teacher, completely unconvinced there wasn’t malicious intent for the “weapon,” led him through the disciplinary process of expulsion. That incident precipitated his Ping-Pong high school experience. He bounced in and out of four different schools over the following four years, narrowly graduating with a 1.8 grade-point average.

Frustrated by his injustice, Perry said he began to make poor choices leading to lots of quarrels within the family home. First, at his mom and stepdad’s house, then, within his biological father’s house. As stated by many parents, “My house. My rules!” Those words offer an option; either shape up or ship out.

Perry decided on the latter and joined the Navy.

Boot camp was a better alternative to literally living on the street.

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“My family infighting had gotten so bad, I actually spent a couple of weeks sleeping in my car,” recalled Perry. “That was a very difficult time.”

Perry said an uncle he holds in high regard persuaded him to join the military.

The Naval Station Great Lakes boasts of turning “Civilians into Seamen and Seamen into Sailors.” That proved a difficult task for Perry, as he had failed to share his phobia of water with his recruiting officer. A near drowning incident from childhood would psychologically resurface and paralyzed him whenever he was near deep water. He was the last of 62 men to graduate. The normal boot camp duration is eight weeks. It took Perry 12. A couple of those weeks were spent recovering from a hospital stay.

“One day after doing repeated drills in the pool during inclement weather, I felt like I couldn’t get warm,” said Perry. “I remember someone saying, ‘Hey Perry, man, you alright?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ The next thing I remember is passing out. I had a fever so high I suffered a seizure, urinated on myself and woke up in the hospital with pneumonia.”

Perry persisted and successfully overcame his fear of water. Today, he considers himself a very strong swimmer. After graduating, he packed up his confidence and relocated to Virginia Beach, Va., where he was assigned to Naval Air Station Oceana.

Many warn against young military marriages. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 48 percent of couples who marry before 18 are likely to divorce within 10 years. Well, the then 20-year-old Perry’s marriage to his high school sweetheart went the distance of 90 days!

“We were married just long enough to consummate and conceive a son,” said Perry. “She didn’t find out she was pregnant until after she moved back to Chicago.”

The marriage went bad, but military life had proven to be good for Perry. He was excelling in Virginia. However, as his four years on active duty came to a close, he decided not to re-enlist so that he could return to Chicago to raise his, then 2, now, 6-year-old son, Mykael Perry, of whom he shares nearly all of his time.

Perry remembers examining his life, “I was a 22-year-old single father, divorced, with a bankruptcy.” He shook his head. “I wanted my son to have a better example than that, so I enrolled at Trinity Christian College.”

While he was initially enrolled on academic probation, Perry went on to earn several slots on the dean’s list within his tenure on campus. He also took on leadership responsibilities such as assistant basketball coach and president of the Black Student Union. He graduated in December of 2016 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Over the last year, Perry has been unable to find work in his field. Undeterred by the setback, he’s been pouring himself into young people through his organization, Grind Grately.

“Since the age of 2, my son has been by my side. He’s such a gift, he has the best parts of me and his mother,” stated Perry. “My son has made me realize that being my best self is what’s best for him. I want my life to be of service to others. I’m not exactly sure how I will reach my full potential, but in whatever way I get there, I will choose to be grateful.”

For more about Christian Perry, visit

Claudia Parker is an author, journalist, photographer and videographer. Her column has returned and will be featured the fourth (or fifth) week of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .