Perry knows how it feels to be isolated, and not just because his profession dictates a certain level of exclusion from the public. While growing up in Orlando, he wasn’t allowed to even buy a hotdog at the downtown Woolworth. As an 8-year-old boy sitting where he shouldn’t on a city bus, the sting of prejudice was delivered with a backhand.
For some years his father, one of Orlando’s first black police officers, could neither carry a gun nor arrest white people.
“Segregation was a way of life,” says Perry, who made it all the way through law school without ever sitting in a classroom with a white student. “There were no dinner table discussions about how wrong it was, or why it was that way.”
But after he returned to Orlando in 1977 from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in Houston, Perry realized the full extent to which racial bias would impact his life. Dreaming of a lucrative corporate law practice, he had to settle for pumping gas to support his young family because his dark skin didn’t sit well with the gray suits in Orlando’s law offices.
“Me and my wife, LaDrean, we get back home. I’ve got my resumes, and I’m looking for work,” Perry recalls while sitting in his office. “The next couple of weeks it’s one disappointment after another. I have a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in student personnel services, and I have a juris doctorate, and nobody will hire me. Finally, a lawyer with a very significant law firm, he tells me, ‘Unless you graduated from Harvard or Yale, nobody’s going to touch you here. The only place you’re going to be able to find a job is with Legal Aid as a public defender, or maybe the State Attorney’s Office.’ ”
The last thing Perry wanted to be was a prosecutor. But when an article in the Sentinel Star said the State Attorney’s Office was expanding, he picked up the phone. They said they weren’t hiring.
“I said: ‘To hell with Orlando. I’m going back to Houston.’ ”
Afraid his oldest son would leave and never come back, Belvin Sr., by that time retired, did something he almost never did. He called in a favor. He arranged for his son to meet with Eagan, the chief prosecutor. Eagan, now 82, remembers that first meeting.
“My secretary said there was someone to see me, and in walks this young man. He’s got an Afro haircut, a goatee, and tinted shades. He said he wanted to apply for a job as a prosecutor.”
Appearances aside, Eagan eventually hired him as an assistant state attorney in the traffic division. Perry reported to work with short hair, a coat and a tie. He would go on to become one of Eagan’s toughest prosecutors, known for his exhaustive casework and convictions that stood up even under intense scrutiny.
Perry’s work ethic stems from his late father’s counsel about the burden of inequality. Belvin Sr. told him that a black man must work three times as hard as a white man to be considered just as good. From his mom, a retired schoolteacher, came his serious-minded approach to getting the job done and doing it well.(Read entire article.)Share