On a recent field trip, TPEP participants toured the Washington, D.C.-based strategic advisory firm The Perennial Group, and met with its founder and CEO, Lamell McMorris, a lifelong advocate for the less fortunate.
“Your circumstances do not define who you are or your outcome in life,” McMorris told TPEP-ers. It was an invigorating moment for the teen parents, who walked away inspired. McMorris’ persistent willingness to help improve conditions in our nation’s most disadvantaged communities as a passionate community volunteer and board member of multiple civil rights and humanitarian organizations is surpassed only by his charisma and dedication.
“Your role as a parent can have inestimable impact”
McMorris’ mother believed in education and enforced that value within him while raising Lamell and his brother as a single parent on Chicago’s south side. The role of a parent, McMorris explained, can have inestimable impact on children, as his own mother’s did. He also spoke about the influence of his environment in Chicago, IL and relationships he cultivated there with Harold Washington (the first black mayor of Chicago), the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, John Johnson (of Ebony / Jet magazines), Oprah Winfrey, and President Barack Obama – all individuals who helped shape his ideas about what he could achieve, no matter what his upbringing.
After attending magnet schools in Chicago, Lamell went on to earn an undergraduate degree in theology from Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA) working as an intern for Martin Luther King III along the way. He then chose to pursue a graduate degree at Princeton University, a decision that was intentional but uncomfortable. Up to this point Lamell had only had only had urban experiences in Chicago and Atlanta. “Stretch yourself,” he told TPEP-ers. “Sometimes it is good to put yourself in places where you don’t feel completely comfortable.”
“Rewrite the ending of your story”
HBP teens were especially interested in learning how Lamell is able to stay motivated in the face of setbacks. After serving on staff at the Urban League and as a Special Assistant for Revered Jesse Jackson, McMorris was invited by Martin Luther King III to become the youngest Executive Director and CFO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a professional pinnacle for the 27-year-old. But his departure from that position, he said, was a defining moment. “God has a plan in our ordered steps, even when we might not understand the master plan,” he told teens. A trip to Africa with good friend and actor Chris Tucker helped Lamell realize that any unfortunate situation does not have to be an end, but rather a new beginning. He urged teen parents to choose to move forward and rewrite the ending of their own stories.
McMorris did just that. In 2002, he moved to Washington, D.C. to become a lobbyist and launched the Perennial Strategy Group, which provides strategic insight, legal services, and external affairs services for Fortune 500 companies, national non-profits, trade associations, and even representation for artists, entertainers, media personalities, and professional athletes (including the NFL’s 2011 #1 Draft Pick, Cam Newton).
It was in this renaissance that he learned, “God sometimes speaks through our experiences.” McMorris told teens he tries to get out of God’s way and not mess things up. He considers himself “a testament and walking blessing,” and encouraged HBP teens to work hard, dream dreams, and not give up.
“Have a road map of where you want to go”
McMorris welcomed questions from HBP teen parents in a lively Q & A session.
Q. How do you stay motivated?
Royelle Jones, 19 years old.
McMorris: I am motivated by the simplicity of seeing something grow from nothing – from scratch, ground up, which is how my business was developed. I enjoy the finer things in life and realize that I must work hard to obtain and sustain those things. Lastly, the key to life is exposure. I have been afforded some amazing experiences with folks like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, which have opened my eyes to the possibilities of the world and beyond. My motto is not to be caught in the “glad-to-be-here-stage,” but rather look around and ask myself, “How can I do this – what can I create?”
Q. After being elevated to such a high level in life, how do you stay humble?
Quentin Scott, 18 years old.
McMorris: My faith in God helps me understand that this journey is not solely about me. That’s why I take the time to speak with youth, hoping I can give back and plant some seeds of hope and change. Also, my mother keeps me very grounded and humble.
Q. If I wanted to be like you, who would I talk to and what would I do?
Michelle Tolson, 15 years old
McMorris: There are certain boxes that we as African Americans have to check. Education is absolutely essential and critical for your legitimacy. Experience also plays a role, as does having the ability to network and maintain contacts with various people from all walks of life. Begin by determining the people you admire and want to be like most. Select good mentors – those with the attitude that you too can accomplish anything that you set your mind to. Be willing to work for free to gain invaluable knowledge and experience. Be a visionary and see the value of working hard. Last but not least, have a plan – a road map – of where you want to go and end up.
Healthy Babies Project extends heartfelt thanks to Lamell McMorris and his staff at The Perennial Group for sharing their time, insight, and expertise with our Teen Parent Empowerment Program participants.