between D.C. and New York, require two hours of security clearance on each end. “The time commitment, related to travel alone, tripled,” she notes.
But there were countless unexpected opportunities as well. “The anthrax crisis created an opportunity to talk about how differently postal workers — who may be white, but who represent a lower economic class — are treated from senators and congressmen, and we were there to do that. I also went on a medical mission to Cuba [this past January] where we were incredibly well received.” Then, last spring, the Institute of Medicine released a groundbreaking study describing acute racial disparities in healthcare that confirmed the position the NMA has held and lobbied Congress about for years.
Ironically, the Institute of Medicine’s Unequal Treatment study was released the week Perez was scheduled to complete four years of preparation to become ordained as an African Methodist Episcopal minister. A blizzard of interviews and demands sparked by the report kept her from taking final exams. An 11th-hour extension enabled her to be ordained in May, just in time for her to begin preparing for the annual NMA convention — and passing of the torch — in August.
“I walked into this job with a very myopic — and I do mean my-opic — view. As humble as I thought I was, I saw this as my victory,” says Perez. “But this position isn’t about me or my legacy, it’s about moving the organization and what it stands for forward, no matter what else comes.” Reflecting on the year, she says, “I expected [it] to be so great, so prestigious and wonderful. It was all that, but it also put everything I am to the ultimate test. I mean, I have been through some stuff in my time, but nothing like this. But I am blessed, and I am better for it.”
How’d she get through? “I prayed and I asked everybody to pray for me,” she says, laughing. “You know when you go to church and they say, ‘pray for your leaders?’ Well, there are people who actually do that, and when they did, I could feel the difference!”
Perez says she also relied on her circle of support — those people she could call on at any moment and know that they would be there for her. They include everyone from “my children, to my neighbor who will walk my dog if I can’t get there, to my hairdresser who has met me at her shop at 5 a.m. so I can make a flight.”
Despite the difficulties, Perez says it’s an experience she never would have traded, and she relishes the victory of having gotten through it. “Triumph is like that — fraught with challenge. But the opposite is also true: Our greatest challenges can lead to our greatest triumphs.”
B.E.’s Successpert Speaks:
Handling victory can sometimes be tougher than dealing with defeat. With defeat you’ve been knocked down. You expect to feel bad, to have to struggle back to your feet. But with victory, our expectations are so high. We throw