Former sharecropper son inspires today's youth
"Don't let circumstances or surroundings limit who you are!" This sage advice comes from Midland College (MC) Director of Upward Bound Pervis Evans as he counsels with teens every day. Born to a single mother and later taken to live with sharecropper relatives, Evans certainly didn't let anything limit him!
Evans was born in Dallas; when he was a toddler, he and his mother moved to West Texas to live with his uncle who was a sharecropper cotton farmer in Tahoka. Evans fondly recalls, "Families were willing to take care of each other. My mom and I weren't the only people who my aunt and uncle helped. They helped other families who weren't even related to them."
When Evans was four, the family moved to Woodrow, just outside of Lubbock where his uncle had obtained a job as a custodian and bus driver for Lubbock Cooper High School. "My aunt and uncle said their goal was to buy a car for all of their kids when we graduated from high school, including me–and they did. They weren't brand new cars, but they got us where we needed to go," states Evans.
Evans attended Lubbock Cooper High School and says that he always had the dream of going to college. "When he would go to town [Lubbock], I would see the students walking across campus at Texas Tech, and I knew that I wanted to be one of those students," explains Evans. "Of course, no one in my family had ever attended college. My family was supportive of my goal, but they couldn't offer much help or advice."
Evans states that he made good grades in high school and took part in extracurricular activities. He played the tuba and baritone in the school band, participated in speech and theatre, and was a member of the basketball and football teams. During his sophomore year in high school, his guidance counselor encouraged him to enter an essay contest in which he wrote about three influential people he would like to have met.
Evans says, "I wrote about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the American poet and playwright, Langston Hughes; and the founder of the Church of God in Christ, Inc., Bishop Charles Harrison Mason. I couldn't believe it when I won the contest and was one of only two students from Texas selected to attend a national teen summit in New Jersey. It was such an exciting experience. I had never flown in a plane before!"
"While in New Jersey, we were exposed to several cultural activities," continues Evans. "One of the places we went was to a performance by the Dance Theatre of Harlem. I had never seen black people attend the ballet, much less perform in it. I actually saw people who looked like me and were college educated! I think that's when it finally clicked that I could attend college."
Evans graduated from Lubbock Cooper High School in 1994 and received academic scholarships to enroll in Texas Tech University (TTU), where he obtained a Bachelor's degree in general studies in 1999. He received a Master's degree from TTU in interdisciplinary studies in 2003 and a Master's degree in counseling from Sul Ross State University in 2009.
While he was working on his first Master's degree, Evans drove to Midland one day to participate in a church play, and that's when he met and fell in love with Midland native Michelle Murray. The couple married in August 2003, and they now have two children: Jaden, age 6, is a first grader at Bowie Elementary and McKinley is 19-months-old. Michelle works for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Pervis currently administers the federally funded Upward Bound (UB) program at MC. The program provides opportunities for high school students to succeed in precollege performance and ultimately in higher education pursuits. UB serves young people from low-income families and those from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor's degree. The goal of the program is to increase the rate at which participants complete high school and enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education.
While Evans has only been at MC for approximately two years, he is no stranger to working with young people. He previously worked as a consultant for the Department of Family and Protective Services, served as a grant project director at Coleman High School and worked with other youth programs in Lubbock and Midland.
Evans states, "I was in a program similar to Upward Bound when I was in high school. Adolescence is such a critical time. Young people are experiencing identity crises and need guidance. I had a difficult time during that phase of my life, and I am so thankful that I had the support of adults who brought out my talents and self-efficacy. Now it's time for me to 'pay it forward.' I love working with the teens in the Upward Bound program. It keeps me young, even if sometimes they can get the best of me in basketball!'
Evans, along with UB Academic Coordinator Kim Olivas, Secretary Lovelia Gomez and part-time Counselor Armando Gonzales, work with approximately 50 Midland 9th through 12th-graders to encourage them to remain in high school and then enroll in college. The MC program currently boasts 100 percent pass rate on the high school TAKS test among the UB students, and 94 percent of the participants have enrolled in college!
Evans and his staff coordinate tutoring sessions for the students, conduct approximately two Saturday "academies" each month and administer a six-week summer program in which the students are required to enroll in academic skill-building classes. In addition, the UB participants and staff went to New Orleans, where the students were able to experience several cultural activities and visit universities in the southern Louisiana area.
Evans explains, "It's all about giving students opportunities and empowering them. Many of our participants have enormous personal and family obstacles to overcome. I've found that if we listen, the students eventually will open up to us; if we can find ou their challenges, we can help them academically."
The UB office is located on the MC campus, and Evans says that even after students graduate from high school and the program, they still stop by the office to visit with the staff. "We want our students–both current and former–to feel this is a safe haven," says Evans. "I'm glad this is a place where they feel comfortable."
Evans further explains, "I tell students the decisions you make now will impact your future; however, don't let that get you stuck. There's always time to turn your life around. Choose something and go with it. If you put your mid to it, you will make something of yourself!"