For National Volunteer Month, we are highlighting our very special volunteer, advisor, and beloved elder, Arnold Perkins. 

Arnold Perkins is a man that almost needs no introduction in the East Bay. He’s been a teacher, a principal, a counselor, director of the Alameda County Public Health Department, Chair of the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Commission, and more. 

It’s safe to say that Arnold is well-versed in the subject of education and community work. Coming from a family of activists, he was raised with the passion to help others and improve the systems that do not serve us. 

Arnold was first introduced to FLY through Walter Haas, the Chairman and President of Levi Strauss & Co., who connected him with Christa Gannon, FLY’s Founder and CEO at the time. When Arnold met Christa, one of the first things he noticed was her “We can do this!” attitude. 

“When Christa has a plan, she never speaks in ‘maybe’s’.” Arnold immediately recognized that Christa and FLY have an unwavering commitment to young people. 

At the time Arnold was a part of the Alameda County Delinquency Prevention Commission. He was always on the lookout for good programs that served young people in the community and FLY ticked all the boxes. He was impressed with not only FLY’s curriculum, but the passion and dedication of the staff as well.

When he was asked to become FLY’s Chair of the Advisory Board for Alameda County he didn’t hesitate to say “Yes,” and says that he’s been a huge fan ever since. “An organization isn’t just run by one person. It takes a lot of people to make an organization run, and as an Advisor anything that FLY asks of me, I’m happy to do.”

Arnold Perkins is one of the fiercest advocates for youth in Alameda County. He was instrumental not only in establishing FLY in Alameda County in 2015, but helping enable us to respond to the needs of the community to the best of our ability. 

“I’ve served on so many boards but FLY is one of the most mature organizations I’ve ever worked with.” He admires not only the fact that we prioritize the voices and needs of our youth, but also never neglect our team. Arnold cites the fact that we always make it a point to discuss how to “heal the healers,” which is something that so succinctly illustrates what a thoughtful organization FLY is. 

Arnold has always been a strong advocate of Youth Voice. “It is so important that we allow our young people to speak for themselves.” For example, he successfully advocated for the Alameda County Delinquency Prevention Commission to include a youth commissioner (a former FLY Law Program graduate). 

He says that the core of what he admires so much about FLY is that we give the youth agency. “FLY lets the young people have their own voice. ‘Say nothing about us without us.’”

When asked about the biggest changes he’s witnessed in the community after he began working with FLY, Arnold was quick to mention the importance of storytelling. In the numerous meetings he’s sat in, it never ceases to inspire him how open and vulnerable people can still be even after going through so many hardships. 

He was particularly moved by a FLY program graduate who came from an abusive home and who is now recovering and close to earning her Master’s degree. “The story of an individual is what can influence the many, and these stories are what give us hope to continue forward.” 

Outside of FLY, Arnold is an active member of the Brotherhood of Elders Network, which is an intergenerational network of men of African descent whose mission is to foster environments where Black males are empowered to flourish. Through the Network, Arnold has inspired and mentored many young men in California’s youth prisons. 

He is a well-respected and renowned elder in Alameda County and is the go-to person in Oakland when people need advice for strengthening the community. He does all this while in retirement, which only further illustrates his dedication to bettering the world we live in. 

After doing community work for so long, Arnold says that one of his biggest takeaways is that results and change are almost never immediate. But we have to remember that we are making a difference even if we don’t notice it at the moment. 

He says that he notices when a youth comes up to him after a meeting to tell him, “I appreciate when you came into my class,” and he sees it when he speaks with FLY and hears about the work we do. 

To any potential FLY volunteers, Arnold’s message is that it is an opportunity to make a difference, to change the trajectory of someone’s life and assist in their personal growth, and it is so rewarding. 

“FLY makes your heart sing. The ethos of FLY flies into your heart and pretty soon you’ll be flying away.”