A Gift of Encouragement

If you have read our post, Reflections from National Convention, you are familiar with the great opportunities our sisters experienced in Houston. On Saturday, June 21, 2014, Dr. Debra Joy Perez was the featured keynote speaker at the Power Lunch. While she is most known across the nation for her research in health disparities and diversity, we know Dr. Perez as our beloved sister. Dr. Perez joined our sisterhood in 1981, only one year after our organization was founded at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Debra’s words during the luncheon are worth sharing, although we know this post will not do them justice. Her heart felt remarks talked of the power a simple gift can have on a person. In Debra’s case, her life was changed when a guidance counselor handed her a college application. Debra returned the application because she and her family did not have $25 to pay for it. The guidance counselor handed her a check for $25 and encouraged her to apply. A simple gift of encouragement and a $25 check changed Debra’s life and the lives of eight siblings who have watched her evolve into the woman she is today. As we heard such moving story, we along with our beloved soror Haydee and Debra’s biological sister, sat tearfully in awe.

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Pérez went on to college and graduated from Douglass College with a BA in communication. She received an MA in social science and women’s studies from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. She received the National Urban and Rural Fellows award leading to her MPA from Baruch College, City University of New York, where she graduated with honors. Dr. Pérez completed her interfaculty doctoral program at Harvard University, receiving a PhD in health policy. While at Harvard, Pérez chaired the first and second university-wide symposium on racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care.

Dr. Pérez was named a 2010 Latino Trendsetter by Latino Trends magazine. She was the 2009 recipient of the Women of Excellence Award from the New Jersey Woman and AIDS Network as well as the 2009 Douglass Distinguished Alumnae Award from Douglass College in New Jersey. In 2010, Dr. Pérez was awarded the Opening Doors Award by the Institute of Wonderful Working Women, a non-profit based in her hometown, Trenton, N.J., which supports low-income African American women pursuing nursing careers. Debra is part of the inaugural class of the Council on Foundations Career Pathways Program, a leadership pipeline expansion program to prepare diverse candidates for executive leadership positions in philanthropy. Pérez was also named the 2011 Woman of Industry by the YWCA in Princeton, N.J. She is a Trustee of the Princeton Area Community Foundation where she is also a donor advisor for the “Twenty-five dollar fund” a fund to support high school students applying for college.

Dr. Perez is now the Vice President for Knowledge Support at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is devoted to strengthen families, building communities and ensuring access to opportunity so children can succeed. You can view her recent TEDx Talk in Jacksonville here.

We could not be more proud of Dr. Debra Joy Perez and all she has accomplished as a result of a simple gift of encouragement. Who can you encourage today?

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