Holy Cross Basketball Player Excels On and Off the Court

Marcellis Perkins ’19 hosts a campus radio show, writes a blog about diversity, and serves as an orientation leader
April 28th, 2017 by 

Marcellis Perkins '19 at WCHC, the campus radio station.
Perkins behind the mic at WCHC 88.1 FM, the campus radio station, where he records his radio show, "The Back Room," on Sundays at 8 p.m. Photo by: Tom Rettig

“Growing up, I had amazing role models in school,” says Marcellis Perkins ’19, a sociology major and basketball player from Virginia. “My coaches and teachers pushed me to be who I am today.”

At 21, Perkins is acutely aware of the importance of such individuals in his own young life. Determined to pay their efforts forward, he lives each day with a simple motto in mind: “Be the person you needed when you were younger.”

“I told myself, I want to be that person. You never know how the small [amount of] time you share with people can impact their lives,” he says.

Perkins was recruited to Holy Cross for basketball in 2013. Although he had never been to New England, the school’s commitment to service and its mission statement really resonated with him.

“I firmly believe in doing well for humanity,” he says. “During my visits to Holy Cross, I met a couple of professors who encouraged me not to think just about basketball, but also the academic portion and the [personal] growth that could come here.”

On the Court

Ultimately, Perkins decided to leave the warm neighborhoods of Chesapeake, Virginia, and take on the cold winters on Mount St. James. He played his first year, despite a previous surgery that prevented him from fully engaging on the court. He suffered a new injury to his shoulder this past August, and was forced to sit out games following surgery in October.

Despite his personal setbacks, Perkins has stayed committed to his team, attending practices and encouraging fellow players. And that commitment on the court, says coach Bill Carmody, is indicative of Perkins’ overall character. “He’s a hard worker, and usually people who work hard on the court work hard on other things,” he adds. “It carries over.”

In the Classroom

Indeed, Perkins has approached his entire college experience with tremendous passion. During his time in Monserrat, the College’s first-year student program that introduces the liberal arts through interdisciplinary seminars and residence hall living, he was fascinated by a course with Professor Virginia Ryan titled “Exploring Difference.”

“It really opened my eyes to talking about people that are different from us, but not separating ourselves from them,” Perkins recalls. “We can acknowledge people are different from us, but I don’t think we should separate ourselves from them or approach them from a place of superiority.”

On Air

Montserrat was also the inspiration for “The Back Room,” Perkins’ show on WCHC, the campus radio station. The title stands for “Being Aware, Conscious and Knowledgeable of the Room and Spaces.”

“I invite students on the show and let them pick the conversation. We’ve talked relationships, race identity, immigration, social and economic class, hyper masculinity, depression within the male community and more.”

Last semester, Perkins invited two female classmates to the show, one from the Dominican Republic, the other from Puerto Rico. A listener called in and prompted a discussion about how the education system in the U.S. differs from where they grew up.

“It was cool to see that people were listening and calling in to ask questions,” he says.

Marcellis Perkins '19 takes a shot during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

Perkins rises above the Oregon Ducks to take a shot during the men’s basketball team’s historic appearance in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

In the Community

Helping students express their ideas in written format was next. Perkins discovered a 1970s Holy Cross publication called “Being Black at Holy Cross,” and was intrigued to read how students’ experiences back then echo what many students feel now. “Those students had an outlet for their raw feelings. So I told my friends, ‘We need to do something similar to this.’” Together they founded “Impact,” a campus blog that showcases students’ photos, videos, poems and articles.

He has also served as a mentor for Odyssey, a week-long summer program designed to help first generation students, students of color and immigrant students acclimate to college life. Having participated in the program himself as a first-year student, Perkins knew it was one more way he could give back. In addition to showing incoming students around campus and accompanying them to workshops, Perkins even offered his own presentation on a topic close to students’ hearts: “How to save dining dollars.”

“That year is a lot of searching and finding. I had someone there to encourage me and motivate me and I wanted to be that person for somebody else,” he says.

All Together Now

Rob Jones, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Education, is one of Perkins’ mentors, and the respect and admiration is mutual. Perkins’ ability to “actualize his passions” is tied to his willingness to experience new things and form new relationships, Jones says.

“Marcellis is not afraid to engage with anyone,” he adds. “He does not limit himself to people he knows.”

Meeting new people and learning about differences has been one of the most rewarding experiences at Holy Cross, Perkins says. It can also be one of the most exhausting.

“It gets tiring to live the mission every day. You really can’t fight every battle; it’s just not possible. But you can always put in effort or be an ally, and you can always show your support. And you can’t just stand in solidarity; you have to move forward in solidarity.”

Perkins is considering education as a possible career path, due in part to another mentor. His “Uncle Johnnie” is a second-grade teacher in Virginia, and as a child, Perkins helped his uncle set up his classroom before the school year began. Parents would approach his uncle and offer their profound thanks for teaching their children.

Witnessing their gratitude, and watching his uncle devote his time and energy so selflessly, inspired Perkins to coin the nickname “Candlelight” for his uncle.

“He burns himself out to light someone else’s fire,” he says.

Written by Mary Cunningham ’17 for the Spring 2017 issue of Holy Cross Magazine


About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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