Perry "Vision" Di Virgilio '00 appears on CNN’s "Black in America"
by Tony Moore & Ariel Klatskin '13
December 7, 2012
"Most people are comfortable allowing others to choose their identity," says Perry "Vision" Di Virgilio '00, "but there is power in saying who and what you are—in claiming yourself."(Photo courtesy of Perry Di Virgilio)
On Dec. 9, Perry "Vision" Di Virgilio '00 will appear on CNN's
Black in America in an episode titled "Who Is Black
in America?" Soledad O'Brien, the show's host, refers to Di
Virgilio as "the center of all the stories" of the segment, which
discusses colorism and racial identity and features an exploration
of what makes a person "black."
Di Virgilio, a north Philadelphia native who was a sociology major while at Dickinson, is an active
spoken-word poet and the executive director of Spoken Soul 215, a
poetry group through which he performs his own works and helps
promote spoken-word events around the Philadelphia area. Di
Virgilio is also the artistic director of Philly Youth Poetry
Movement (PYPM) and the co-coach of PYPM's Youth Slam Team (which
took the world championship at the Brave New Voices International
Youth Poetry Slam in 2011).
Dickinson Magazine caught up with Di
Virgilio a few days before he was to appear on Black in
What drives you as a writer, and what makes spoken-word
poetry your medium of choice?
Every time someone gets on stage and decides to tell the truth,
it's terrifying. I still get butterflies before I perform, and I've
been doing this for the better part of 10 years. But there is also
freedom in that vulnerability and a sense of liberation once you've
finished. There's honor in someone coming up to you later and
telling you how connected they were to your poem because they went
through something similar. If I never shared, we may have never
What drives you toward helping young people, and what do
you think they take from the writing and performance of their
While creating better poets is an amazing thing, we want to use
poetry as a means to create better people. Watching my kids grow is
a feeling like no other. We encourage our teens to tell their
stories, to be vulnerable. We give them the tools to tell their
stories or the stories of others who may not have a voice.
With you as coach of the PYPM Youth Slam Team, they won
the world championship at the Brave New Voices International Youth
Poetry Slam in 2011. What does your work with the team mean to
That year was my first experience as head coach of the team; in
2009 and 2010, I was the assistant coach. I push the teens I work
with artistically, but more than anything, I push them to work hard
and be better people. Philly may not always have the most talented
team, but no one will out-work us. Once school let out, my assistant coach, Kavindu
Ade, and I practiced with the group six days per week, for up to six hours at a time. When we
won the Brave New Voices championship, we all felt like our hard
work paid off. [It paid off again in 2012, when the team placed
How did CNN's Black in America get you involved
with the show? What message do you hope to send out to America
through your appearance?
A consultant from CNN ran across one of our 2012 team poems from
Brave New Voices titled "Team Lightskin," which deals with the
colorism problem within the black community. At the time, I was
preparing to do a four-week workshop series on racial identity and
colorism, and CNN became interested in taping the workshops. They
followed the series from September to October and keyed in on me
and two of my students. The workshops were designed to get people
to think about their identity. We learned that most people are
comfortable allowing others to choose their identity, but there is
power in saying who and what you are—in claiming yourself.
In the trailer for "Who Is Black in America?" you ask,
"What is black?" What is the answer in your eyes, and how does it
play a role in your life and your work?
I was raised to believe in the one-drop rule, but as I got
older, I realized "black" in America is not as simple as that. Some
people believe black is skin tone. Some believe it has to do
with your ancestors. Some believe it's experiences and cultures. My
mother is black; I am black. My father is white, but I'm a black
man. It's really that simple to me. Most times I will identify as a
"biracial black man." But "black man" is always there. When I was
at Dickinson, it was a lot less diverse than it is now. The black
folks on campus rallied around each other. We found pride in being
black. We were proud to be black together. I have never forgotten
that, and I never will.
You've returned to campus a few times to speak with the
members of MANdatory. What do you hope to pass on to them? What
have you learned from them?
I speak about my experiences at Dickinson. I speak to them about
following their dreams. About not being afraid to be who they are.
I speak to them about sticking together and being strong together.
I don't think I would've made it at Dickinson had it not been for
the other young men and women of color on campus. It took me a
while to get past the initial culture shock of coming from north
Philly to Carlisle. If it wasn't for them, I don't think I would've
stayed, and staying was the best decision I could've ever made.
What are your best memories of your time at
The people at Dickinson for the most part were really amazing. I
really loved my basketball teammates when I was there too. Being on
the road with them all the time was a lot of fun. I had really cool
mentors and advisors while I was there as well. Joyce Bylander,
Susan Rose, Chuck Barone and Lonna Malmsheimer really pushed me to
be great. They saw potential in me even when I didn't. I am who I
am today because they pushed me.
Di Virgilio performs his poem "Lightning Bugs" at Elektrik Relaxxation at the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe in New York City, May 1, 2011.