An Advocate for Equity

Shermaine Perry (MPA ’13) grew up in a military family and spent her childhood overseas, attending elementary school in the Middle East and finishing high school in Germany. When she received a college recruitment letter that said, “To whom much is given much is required,” she decided to focus on helping others. After graduating from Spelman College in Atlanta and earning a master’s degree from Strayer University, Perry is making good on that long-ago promise as a research and community development fellow at the Partnership for Southern Equity in Georgia.

How has your overseas experience shaped you?

I’ve always wanted to write policy. When I was eight and living in Turkey, an “eye for an eye” was a common practice at that time. I proposed an award-winning law for a school project that stated if a person kills the primary provider of a family, he or she should have to work and take care of that family until everyone is of age. From there, I realized that I wanted to write policies that make a difference.

How are you serving your community today?

I had done a lot of advocacy before this job, including voter registration. Now I concentrate on the Partnership’s free Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas, an evidence-based intervention tool for community advocacy and action to promote regional growth. I train organizations on the tool, prepare policy briefs and lead our collegiate engagement campaign. Campus activities and student involvement are a big deal: I stay in touch with every college and university within our region’s 28 counties.

What’s your daily routine?

I usually spend mornings confirming which community organizations are meeting. Then I visit as many of those meetings as possible. I also call community members to learn how we can support them and track how they’ve used our information. For instance, grant writers may use the tool to research educational initiatives, such as confirming graduation rates. Or, maybe they are seeing a lot of students with asthma and want to figure out why so they can develop policy solutions.

Why are partnerships important to nonprofits?

Our partnerships with entities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Morehouse School of Medicine give us a rich resource of knowledge. I connect with others and lean on their expertise for best practices. We are sharing the work, as well as the outcomes.

What is your favorite part of your job?

At this point in my nonprofit career, I see the opportunity to educate, build confidence and encourage widespread interest among people of all ages in serving the community. We cover a lot of territory, but I enjoy a challenge and being able to watch growth happen. I look forward to seeing the region prosper in the coming years.