Raising a voice for others to thrive: remembering Michael La’Mont Perkins, Esq.
by David Slipher
Michael La’Mont Perkins Esq., Wilder School alumnus and dedicated public servant, built a life committed to education, mentorship and advocacy. As a young, African-American professional, Michael was dedicated to family, faith, leadership, and service using his voice as a tool to impact the lives of those around him.
From humble beginnings
As a young boy, Michael grew up with a speech impediment and began confronting challenges at an early age. Michael struggled with general communication and became frustrated resulting in him shutting down and relying on his older sister for support and translation. “He struggled a lot in his early childhood, getting people to understand him,” said his mother, Pastor Cynthia Perkins.
Teachers and instructors believed he’d require consistent therapy and an individualized education plan in order to succeed in school. However, with hard work, strong determination and his belief in his faith, Michael overcame his speech barriers by the third grade. This experience altered his life and in time, would ripple out and influence those whose lives he touched.
As a teen, Michael continued to strengthen his oratory skills, participating in student government and taking speech and debate courses in high school. Through diligent practice and training, he discovered his passion for the transmutative abilities of education and continued to build oration as one of his greatest strengths. His voice soon found a larger role in speaking up for those in need to include becoming class president in both middle and high school where he was the voice for his classmates.
A legacy of service and advocacy
Following his parents' example of scholastic achievement, Michael was a two-time graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, earning a bachelors in Criminal Justice and Psychology in 2010. During his college career, Michael was initiated as a brother of the Theta Rho Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the nation’s first African American fraternity. He found brotherhood and support, and served as Chapter President and for years later as a mentor.
“He'd always go back year after year just to support the younger brothers in the chapter, said his wife, Taylor Perkins. “Just to let them know, you know, ‘hey, I'm going to look out for you in the same way my big brothers looked out for me.’ He definitely did. And he did everything that he could to make sure his chapter was well known.”
Throughout his academic journey, Michael quickly established himself as an ambitious and goal-focused professional. In 2012, Michael began his work in public affairs, serving as a legal intern for the Washington D.C. Council, policy analyst for the Tim Kaine for US Senate campaign and research fellow for the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. The following year, Michael worked as a policy analyst for Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial campaign and would go on to earn a law degree from the University of the District of Columbia's David A. Clarke School of Law in 2013.
In 2014, Michael joined the VCU L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs as a graduate research and teaching assistant, leading Michael to pursue a doctorate degree in public policy and administration at the Wilder School. In 2016, as a Ph.D. student, Michael was selected by the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) to present his dissertation research at the International Young Scholars Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa.
His research examined on campus crime alerts and the experiences of African American male students at urban universities, who were disproportionately targeted by authorities. Michaels’ findings supported feelings of racial battle fatigue and stigmatization around campus alerts. Overwhelmingly, survey respondents experienced campus crime alerts as vague descriptors that reinforced public perceptions of black men as criminals and contributed to a hostile environment.
In 2017, Michael joined the US Government Accountability Office as a policy analyst and, most recently, served as Assistant Commonwealth Attorney for Louisa County as well as a legal advisor serving the New Covenant Apostolic Church Trustee Board.
The power of modeling representation
“Michael reflected the essence of equity in action. Whether he was interviewing African-American youth about their experiences, analyzing federal policies and programs, or analyzing the scales of justice, his intellectual acumen and keen insights resulted in increased sophistication and understanding,” shared Susan Gooden, dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
“His personal character always served as a compass for others in his orbit.” she added.
Michael’s career orbited a deep passion for racial equity advocacy. He is noted for his skills to secure “a seat at the table” and representing clients, friends and community partners. He is remembered for building a legacy of helping and educating others by sharing his life experiences — beginning with his early challenges with speaking.
“Michael lived life with purpose, he pursued his passions and dreams, and made a positive impact on the world around him. Michael was present in the moment, nurtured relationships, and gave back to his community. Michael made the most of his time and through his love, his voice that was once muted will live on forever.” – Taylor Perkins, Michael's wife
“He wanted others to thrive and have the same opportunities he had. He just wanted people to know that they were heard, appreciated it and that their voice mattered,” said Taylor Perkins.
Michael has mentored middle and high school students, provided legal aid and advice as well as ensured that he was a role model to young black men always encouraging, uplifting, and speaking positivity about their lives. “He overcame many adversities in his life and achieved so many things, so many things,” said Cynthia Perkins.
“Mikey always had a way of making sure the people in all of his circles were well taken care of,” said Cynthia Perkins, “If he could offer advice in any way, he was just that person to give them what they needed to hear. He was always smiling, finding the good in people, and just doing the right thing. His heart reached many folks.”
Leaving a lasting mark
Although his years were short, Michael was successful in achieving his dreams and aspirations in life. There was nothing Michael set out to do that he didn’t achieve. But his greatest accomplishment and what he cherished most was his family. Since Michael was born, he was a family guy, Cynthia Perkins shared. For years, he was the first son and younger brother. Eventually, he became an older brother, protector, and uncle. “There was never a dull moment with Mikey and with him laughter and love filled the household,” she said.
Michael also found love at VCU, meeting Taylor Perkins (formerly Thomas) as a student. She caught his eye at one of VCU’s Black Awakening Choir concerts and the two were eventually set up on a blind date which later led to marriage on November 11, 2017. They eventually became proud parents to now three-year old Mila Perkins and one year old Mason Perkins.
“I’m sure if you could ask Michael, his greatest accomplishment and what made him most proud was being a dad,” said Taylor Perkins. “From the first moment he looked into his daughter’s eyes he was hooked. Michael strived daily to fulfill his duties as a father and showed his children that they were seen, heard and loved.”
“Michael lived life with purpose, he pursued his passions and dreams, and made a positive impact on the world around him. Michael was present in the moment, nurtured relationships, and gave back to his community. Michael made the most of his time and through his love, his voice that was once muted will live on forever.”