IOP Fellow Profile: Former Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins

Adrian Perkins reflects on his military service and mayoral tenure, emphasizes conciliatory leadership in a polarized political climate


Courtesy of the Institute of Politics

Adrian Perkins is the former Democratic Mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana.

By Nicole Roesler

For the fourth installment of a multi-part series profiling each of the Institute of Politics’ (IOP) Pritzker Fellows for the winter and spring quarters, The Maroon spoke with Adrian Perkins, the former Democratic Mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, about his military experience and how his upbringing translated into his strengths as a political leader.

Perkins attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. Upon graduating, Perkins was commissioned as a field artillery officer and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of his eight years of service in the army, Perkins completed Ranger training, held the rank of captain, and served as a company commander. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in combat.

Perkins was inspired to join the military and attend West Point Military Academy after the September 11 terrorist attacks. This same sense of duty would later lead Perkins to entering the political arena.

“My oldest brother was in the military, but I really was not interested in the military very much,” Perkins said. “But when 9/11 happened, I knew I was already being recruited by West Point. I knew I could get a nomination. I wanted to fight for our country.”

Perkins’s mother, who raised him and his two older brothers as a single parent, was another source of inspiration for serving in the military. Drawing upon her example of selflessness, Perkins felt motivated to similarly serve others.

“She raised me, and my two older brothers and I watched her sacrifice everything for other people, [even though] she never benefited from it,” he said. “She was a really good person to watch, [and] a really good role model.”

Perkins also highlighted how growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Shreveport contributed to his combat readiness.

“My earliest memories were drive-by shootings and gunshots,” Perkins said. “So often in my neighborhood, I was sleeping under the bed because I didn’t want to get shot. I thought if I was on the bed, I would get shot. So you know, it was a fight. It felt like a fight to just be alive when I was growing up, as crazy as that sounds. I had to be bold if I wanted to accomplish anything, if I wanted to break the cycle that I was in, if I wanted to change my circumstances.”

During his time in the Army, Perkins rose from the position of platoon leader to company commander. He attributes much of his current leadership style to the military.

“What [serving in the military] taught me was to work with extremely diverse teams, not just racially, not just a religious background, not just socioeconomic, but also political ideologies as well,” Perkins said. “It also taught me that we can work very well together [and] we can accomplish missions together, even if we don’t think exactly alike.”

Perkins applied skills acquired from deployments such as leadership and teamwork to politics by always trying to find common ground with constituents.

“Louisiana is a very conservative place. The military is a very conservative place,” he said. “I was a leader here, I was the leader there, but Harvard Law School [is] not a very conservative place. I was my student body president of Harvard Law School. So when I went back to the South, it showed me that no matter who I was surrounded by ideologically, that if I found common ground, that I could lead and serve in those environments.”

After completing his military service in 2015, Perkins went on to attend Harvard University Law School from until 2018, where he received a Juris Doctor. He simultaneously interned for the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Office of the Governor for the State of Louisiana. Perkins was elected mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2018 and served one four-year term ending in January 2023. He viewed his mayoral tenure as an opportunity to give back to his community and to help those in need. However, he found that the challenge of addressing racial disparities proved to be a problem insurmountable in a single four-year term.

“I want to just explicitly say, I failed to bring my community together,” Perkins said. “That was something that I really, really wanted to do, but when you’re fighting against hundreds of years of experiences and culture to bring Black people, white people, brown people all together in a four-year term from a mayor’s office, and when George Floyd happens and you still have those economic disparities, it is an extremely heavy lift.”

Going into office, Perkins hoped to integrate white and Black neighborhoods but failed to make significant progress. “Every single topic when I came into office revolved around race,” he said. Perkins believes that the constant racial framing of policy impeded efforts at bringing communities together.

“I would define it as a failure to bridge the gaps that need to be bridged with race relations that it touches on so much in my community […] and at the basis of it all is because our white and Black communities aren’t very integrated. They don’t see each other. It was my mission to bring them together and get them to just see one another so that we can govern a city and not talk about what’s best for the East or what’s best for the West […] I made some steps forward, but I didn’t cross the finish line. So that’s the reason why I consider that a failure.”

Despite Perkin’s inability to fully rectify the racial divide in Shreveport, he proudly acknowledges his success in bridging the community’s digital gap.

“We are actually bridging the digital divide in Shreveport,” he said. “More households on the West Side of the city have Internet access today than they ever have had. We have more minority participation in city government contracts than we’ve ever had. So I made a lot of progress.”

Perkins shared that he was motivated to pursue an IOP fellowship because of the University’s unique approach to education, particularly the Chicago Principles and Chicago school of economics. He also hopes to mentor the next generation of political leaders.

“My term motivated me to understand that this is a generational fight,” Perkins said. “This isn’t a one-term or two term thing, [this requires] coming to the University of Chicago and talking to the next generation of leaders about the challenges that’s going on down there, and encouraging them and daring them to go and get involved in these fights that are happening around our country on the public side, that are going to determine whether or not we move forward or if we take steps back.”

Perkins does not plan on seeking re-election, citing his wish to make room for the younger generation. He hopes to share his political experience with students and to teach them that a good politician possesses three characteristics: “Humility and the ability to genuinely listen… I think those two things are probably two of the most powerful, [on top of] just loving other human beings,” Perkins said.

He also emphasized the value of listening to a spectrum of ideas and the value of debate to budding politicians.

“All too often on our college campuses today, our students want to be in these comfortable bubbles,” he said. “Opposing views are too offensive to them, you know, and I really want to tell them that it strengthens you. It strengthens your viewpoints as well, and it enlightens you. [When] you do know what other people are thinking it makes your arguments sharper and makes your argument stronger. It might even change your mind if you get exposed to those other things and you find a better truth for yourself, but ignoring them, running from them, or ostracizing them is not the answer.”

Perkins hopes to create a legacy of empowering individuals and inspiring them to fight towards a better future alongside him.

“I want to leave a trail of leaders behind that, even if they don’t go to local government, they at least understand that, ‘hey, there are fights to be had out in the world,’ you know, ‘I’m fully qualified to do this, and I’m going to participate in these fights as much as I possibly can. I’m not going to give up, I’m not gonna put it on somebody else to execute. I’m going to volunteer and offer myself up,’ similar to that thought I had on 9/11 when I was a junior in high school,” Perkins said. “I wanted to leave a trail of courageous public service behind by having something like this.”