In more than 30 years at Medical Mutual of Ohio, Debra Green has become a change agent.
She's a voice for the company. She's also the vice president of social responsibility and chief diversity officer for Medical Mutual of Ohio.
"Cleveland is home to me," Green said. "I just love the community. I’ve worked here 30 plus years. Now when I think that every day I come to work and I get to make my hometown better. When I started, there was no chief diversity officer...ensuring that everyone feels needed and important is what that role says."
What's important to Debra?
"My first priority is to do exactly what I was put here to do. I think that has come with time and wisdom. But I know now that life here is not about me, it’s all about, ‘How can I serve the Lord?’ ” Green said.
Faith has always played a role in her life, but it became central when she was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago.
“I grew up in the church. I always believed, but having been diagnosed with a devastating disease like cancer, I really faced my mortality, and I thought, ‘Oh, is this what it feels like to think that you’re going to die?’ ” Green said. “You grow up rather quickly. You have to pull it up and pull it together and fight.”
Fight she did, publicly as a young mom. It’s a battle she’s still quick to share.
“I think that as long as I’m here and I have breath, that’s what I’m here to do is to keep fighting, to keep blessing, because I’m so blessed," Green said. "Hopefully they’ll say, ‘If it was 20 years for her, it can certainly be 20 years for me.’”
Debra says her life saver was her husband, who encouraged her physical and to get the mammogram that found her cancer. They've been married 37 years.
“We were next-door neighbors,” Green said. “He always like to tell people that, ‘Do you know I married the girl next door?' My dad still lives next door to his dad.”
There are four generations now, their son and daughter and a grandson, all live in Cleveland. She sees the city's strengths and its challenges.
“I wish and hope and pray that my grandson and my great-grandchildren will live in a kinder world…Because I have a black male son who’s out there working and out and about," Green said. "I have a grandson. That concerns me. That, is he going to be safe?”
“I grew up teaching my son, my husband and I, you know you really have to be careful how you dress. How you act. Don’t drive around with your music blasting. Don’t have your cap backwards. Because unfortunately, people make assumptions,” Green said.
“Now, there may be some parents who don’t have to have those conversations with their kids. But I did. And we had the conversations because we wanted to save his life. But why do we live in a world like that? I wish I had the answer,” Green said.
For that solution, like many others, she turns to prayer.
“I believe in the power of prayer. And as long as we bind together and we pray, there’s always the chance that things will change.”
We've started a new series Thursdays on WKYC Channel 3 News at 6 p.m. about the women in Northeast Ohio's communities who make things happen. These are women who see the possible, women you'd like to have in your group, women we’re bringing into Sara’s Circle.
Why the Medical Mutual of Ohio headquarters is full of memories
“My parents would dress us up on Sundays, and we would take the bus downtown. In fact, we used to eat in this building. It used to be a cafeteria called Forum Cafeteria. We’d come and eat and we’d do all our shopping downtown…This vibe we’re feeling now is totally different. Cleveland is hip and cool. Which I’ve always thought that, but now everyone else thinks that as well.”
How she's become her mother
“My mother has died, but she was a strong influence in my life. When I think about where I am now and what’s important to me, I think back about her. I think growing up, you listen to your mom, but sometimes you think, I’ll never be like my mother, but quite frankly, it’s probably one of the largest honors that I have to be able to say, ‘Oh, I’m just like my mother.’ ”
On her daily challenge
“I’m an introvert and I’m quiet and sometimes it just drains me. But I have to realize that that’s just the way I am. And it’s served me well all these years…People who know me, they think, I cannot believe that she’s out all the time speaking on behalf of a company, being interviewed, that is totally a 180 from who I am. But I also realize that I have an obligation. I’ve been placed in this role in that time. Which means that I have to be on, and I have to do it. I just have to step outside of that comfort zone frequently.”
Her best advice
“Be the best you. Because if God wanted us all to be the same, he wouldn’t have made us all different. So it’s to be yourself and take those opportunities that are given to you.”