YARBROUGH COLUMN: Making an exception
Published 11:30 am Tuesday, December 6, 2022
As a matter of policy, I don’t do book reviews in this space. If you do one, you are pretty much committed to do them all. If fairness, where do you draw the line?
However, today I am going to make an exception because the author is exceptional as is the story she tells. Her name is Samantha Perez but her friends call her Sam. So do I.
A native of Lexington, Ky, she is currently a news reporter at WLTX-TV in Columbia, SC. She is also a graduate of my beloved Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia and, of particular importance to me, a Yarbrough Fellow.
Anyone who has given this space even a casual read knows of my great love for my alma mater and for the Grady College and all within it. I have tried to express that love through my time and tithes.
One of the ways is with the establishment of the Yarbrough Fellowships. They are awarded to some of the best and brightest in the college. I don’t make the selections. I just marvel at the quality of the recipients and readily admit that I would never have come close to qualifying for one.
The endowment is now close to 20 years old and some of the earlier recipients are now in positions of leadership in organizations across the country. I hear from a number of them on occasion, updating me on their career status and making me feel like a proud papa. Samantha Perez is one of those.
And that brings me to her book, Deviate From Denial: Erasing the Stigma of Addiction and Recovery Through Inspirational Stories. And what an inspirational story it is. Even more inspiring, she wrote the book while still in school and prior to graduating magna cum laude. (Did I mention that Yarbrough Fellows are high achievers and smarter than a whip?)
The book is about the opioid epidemic that is currently gripping our nation. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, last year over 100,000 people died from opioid overdose. That is more than died from car wrecks, gun violence and influenza. It is a subject about which Sam is well-versed. Not from personal use but from personal observation.
Her parents, Diane and Rob Perez, operate DV8 Kitchen in Lexington, a bakery that serves breakfast and brunch. But this is not your ordinary eatery. The establishment seeks out and hires people in recovery from substance use. Currently employed are 23 individuals working hard every day to stay clean, including a health care professional, an engineer, former college students and a college professor.
But this is not a charity operation, DV8 is a popular and profitable restaurant in town that gets high ratings from its customers and from crowd-sourced reviewers like Yelp. (Predominately 5-Star) Most reviews mention the good food as well as the excellent service.
Because those in recovery have a sense of shame at where their life and circumstances have led them, it is her parent’s philosophy that having a job is an ideal way to build back self-respect. In fact, DV8’s employees are paid 20 better their competitors if they are performing 20 percent better. Excellence is the standard, not pity. Sam Perez recounts the stories of those recovering or attempting to recover from substance abuse who have worked at her parent’s restaurant. She notes that the stories are “full of pain but they are also full of hope.” Not all have happy endings. Some of the people failed, recovered and failed again. Some ultimately recovered. Some died.
While her parents from time to time may be disappointed by the results of their efforts, they remain unwavering in giving a helping hand to those that most businesses would see as unemployable and offering them a second chance to become productive tax-paying citizens instead of being a tax burden.
Samantha Perez says, “I am inspired by my parents. Through their business, I have met so many incredible employees with really impactful stories, and I knew that telling their stories and starting a conversation about addiction was the best way I could help.”
Deviate from Denial is available in paperback on Amazon. It is an exceptional story told by an exceptional person trying to bring attention to an exceptionally serious problem. I am proud of Sam Perez and what she has already accomplished. She gives me hope for the future. And she is a Yarbrough Fellow.