Raised in Philadelphia’s West Mt. Airy — a neighborhood that has taken pride since the 1950s in its persistent and successful commitment to racial integration — Tova absorbed a commitment to social justice from both her humanistic Jewish family and the Quaker school she attended through high school. A fast and voracious reader, she double-majored in Literature and Women’s Studies as an undergraduate because she was fascinated by how skilled writing can shape culture and power. She went on to earn two masters’ degrees, one in English and one in History, in two different attempts to complete a PhD.
Each time, the excitement of learning gave way to the urge to get involved in practical, concrete action for a better world. The second PhD program she left was at the University of Michigan, when her research on racial and ethnic politics in late 20th-century New York became less compelling than the visible, ongoing struggles for racial and economic justice in metro Detroit.
Image description: Tova Perlmutter, a pale-skinned white woman with short hair and glasses, standing in front of a brick wall. Photo by Michael O’Reilly.
More than two decades later, Tova has worked as a fundraiser, communications professional, organizer, team-builder and executive director. She is a dynamic and creative leader excited to be part of human rights movements including anti-racism, feminism, economic justice, queer rights and disability justice. She has been a keynote speaker at Adrian College’s Conference on Women’s Diversity, and presented at many other events, including the Detroit People’s Platform convening; two Money For Our Movements conferences; and the Michigan Summit.
Tova has been recognized twice by Detroit City Council with the Spirit of Detroit Award for extraordinary leadership, both times in connection with her work fighting Michigan’s unjust “Emergency Manager” law. She was nominated twice for the National Lawyers Guild’s Legal Worker of the Year. She has served as a volunteer board member for nonprofits including Detroit Jews for Justice, Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, Citizens Environment Alliance, and Artcite, Inc. For several years she was also a “headhunter” for the Buck Dinner, a unique Detroit institution that gathers hundreds of people every year to raise funds for social justice causes too radical for conventional funding sources.
Beyond her political commitments, Tova has an abiding love for the arts. She has helped run Cazadero Performing Arts Family Camp, after years as a camper made this creative haven a second home for her and her family. She has also directed or performed in many community theater productions, and her infectious laugh makes her very popular as an audience member. She founded and ran a local Facebook group for theater participants and fans, which grew to 1,000 members in seven years.
And she remains enthusiastic about languages and cultures, with near-native pronunciation (but ever-dwindling vocabulary) in French and Russian as well as English. Her constant curiosity and excitement about learning new things enabled her to become a Jeopardy! contestant in 2008...and her inability to retain those new things when they involve world geography prevented her from winning. But, like everything she does, the experience left its mark in lasting, solid and diverse friendships.