2008 Kerr Award honors student working to prevent domestic violence


Second-year MPH student Leah Perkinson is the 2008 winner of the Kathryn J. Kerr Memorial Scholarship. This award recognizes a second year master’s student with a demonstrated commitment to community health education practice. “I am thrilled about it,” commented Perkinson. “It’s such an honor to be nominated for and receive the award.”

For more than a decade, Perkinson has worked with community-based organizations advocating for social change, particularly social justice for women and the GLBTQ community, including: the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Orange County Rape Crisis Center Chatham County Family Violence and RapeCrisis Center Helpmate Domestic Violence Agency of Buncombe County; and the Orange County Women’s Center. As HBHE faculty member Beth Moracco put it, “Leah’s activism is an integral part of her life.”

At UNC, as a Research Assistant for the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Perkinson researched and prepared the first comprehensive document on known North Carolinadomestic violence-related homicides.

“That report,” said Dr. Beth Moracco, a faculty member in the Department, “acted as one of the catalysts that initiated formation of the first House Select Committee on Domestic Violence within the NC House of Representatives. The report format continues to be used by the 90 domestic violence service providers in NC as well as by newspapers, television reporters and legislators.”

This past summer, Perkinson was one of a handful of students selected for the CarolinaCenterfor Public Service’s Robert E. Bryan Fellowship. With that funding, Leah developed and implemented Project DIVE, Developing swimming skills and Invoking Voice through Empowerment, a youth development project integrated into ChathamCounty’s Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services Camp Dragonfly. By including swimming lessons, PhotoVoice and creative arts and crafts activities in the camp curricula, Project DIVE facilitates positive youth development in the lives of children ages 6-17 who are primary and secondary victims of violence.

Kathy Kerr was a 1984 MPHgraduate of the Department. Until her untimely death in 1995, Kathy was seen by many of her colleagues to embody what it means to be committed to public health causes and was a tireless advocate on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS, injection drug users, and gays and lesbians. She also had a great commitment to women’s health issues.

The Kathryn J. Kerr Memorial Scholarship was established over 10 years ago by Kathy’s friends and family. Betsy Randall David, a HBHE adjunct faculty member who knew Kathy well, continues to support the award, both through contributions and by nominating candidates. Of this year’s award winner, Randall-David writes: “Leah is just the sort of person who exemplifies the ideals and values held in highest regard by Kathy. She is a person of high integrity, deep commitment, and firmly held beliefs about the importance of doing social justice work.”

Achievements of past award winners demonstrate that Perkinson is in good company. “I’m excited to learn of others who have gone before me and to find out what they’re doing. As an aside, I played rugby at UNC back in 1997 with one of my Kerr Award predecessors, Kim Chapman. She’s great! And I’m especially excited about meeting Kathy’s parents. That should be pretty special.”