By Abby Weingarten
New College alumnus Gera Peoples ’94 pursued a legal career to “become an agent of change,” and he has done so for the past two decades as an attorney.
“I have always had a commitment to making this country fairer and more equitable,” said Peoples, who is a partner and deputy chair of the Miami-based fraud and recovery practice group, Akerman LLP. “From the time I was a young child, I was consciously aware of social injustice and the efforts to make it right. I think that’s part of what led me to become a lawyer.”
Peoples grew up on the Liberty City area of Miami—a historically black inner-city neighborhood that gained national attention during the 1980 riots sparked by the murder of Arthur McDuffie. Peoples’ parents, who came of age during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, took him to protest the verdict of the McDuffie case, and taught him as a young boy about activism and the legal system.
“My parents instilled awareness in their kids—about the right to vote and equality, and we grew up with a real sense of possibility,” Peoples said. “I grew up believing that everyone has a right as an American in a free society to pursue their greatness.”
Peoples pursued his own greatness as an anthropology undergraduate student at New College, and he went on to earn a juris doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2000.
In 2014, he joined the New College Alumni Association (NCAA) Board of Directors, and one of his main objectives on the board has been to help diversify New College’s campus community. He believes real societal change begins with a focus on higher education, and that black and brown students deserve equal access to high-quality college experiences.
“I think that we’re at a crucial moment in history for possible structural changes,” Peoples said. “So we need to address larger questions about why black and brown students aren’t going to four-year liberal arts colleges in the same way that non-black and brown kids are. And we need to talk about New College’s role in this as a state college.”
As a current civil rights movement unfolds globally, Peoples is encouraging education leaders to participate in this dialogue locally.
“What is New College if it’s not a diverse environment with different people from different backgrounds? At the minimum, New College should be reflective of the state in which it sits (and we have a state where the black population is 16 percent),” Peoples said. “I also think New College has a greater obligation, because it’s a state school, to make sure everyone—even students who are resistant to the idea of pursuing a liberal arts education—are aware of its value. It’s a tragedy that black and brown kids are not exposed to New College or convinced that it’s a great place to go.”
Peoples was fortunate enough to be exposed to New College by his high school guidance counselor. He initially attended Morehouse College (a historically black institution in Atlanta, Georgia), but transferred to New College because he wanted a more individualized academic experience, to study anthropology and to live closer to home. He graduated in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and wrote a thesis entitled Speak for Demselves: An Ethnographic and Archaeological Investigation of The Bluff Community, Cat Island, Bahamas.
Peoples has since worked in various roles as an attorney throughout his legal career—from a law clerk to federal judges, to a federal prosecutor. As an assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Peoples investigated and prosecuted white-collar crimes and hate crimes. As special counsel to U.S. Attorney, he covered civil rights investigations and organized townhall meetings for marginalized communities (showing people how to seek justice when victimized).
He has been involved in complex commercial litigation and arbitration, including class-action lawsuits and antitrust disputes. He tried 25 federal criminal cases and argued two cases before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Peoples also regularly participates in community-oriented advocacy. He was a panelist on the Gun Rights v. Gun Control Panel: Race, Violence and Hate Crimes at the 30th Annual Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander Commemorative Conference at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and a guest lecturer on “Race and Justice” at the University of Miami in 2018. He is even a mentor with the Southern District of Florida’s Court-Assisted Re-Entry (CARE) Program, which helps citizens successfully return to the community after jail or prison.
In his work with the NCAA, Peoples has hosted alumni events for New College and brainstormed multiple youth outreach efforts. He wants everyone—including those from backgrounds like his—to consider attending New College, and to know that they too can have fulfilling, high-caliber careers after graduation.
“Outside of the ivies, I don’t think black and brown students have an idea that there’s a whole great big world out there of opportunities in education. New College was a great place of thought, where you were in control of your own destiny and educational experience,” Peoples said. “I had a fascinating experience where I worked at the Hermitage museum in Tennessee for two summers doing archaeology, and I even did a semester at the Smithsonian Institution. I loved the independent study, and the whole academic experience was great.”
One of Peoples’ ideas for recruiting New College attendees is to offer a summer program that brings black and brown (and first-generation college) students to campus. He also thinks there should be more of an effort to recruit from high schools with large black and brown populations, as well as from community colleges.
“If you talk to black New College alums, they will tell you that this is the best education you can get at a low price point. It is also a place where you learn individuality and entrepreneurship, and gain the ability to make a difference,” People said. “I learned at New College that, if we want to be agents of change, we can all find our space to do that in this country. We all can do something to make change happen.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.