Every hardship or speed bump on your journey, whether it’s having a disability, not knowing what your college major should be, or getting rejected from a publisher, add up to make you who you are. If it weren’t for my disabilities, I may not have known of my passion for inclusion, achieved my level of education, and become an advocate for others with disabilities. If it weren’t for the rocky road trying to publish my story, I wouldn’t have created Green Rose Publishing with my husband, and Completely Me may not have found its way into the hands of children whose lives will be different because of the story. All of these experiences have lead me to where I am today, and I’m grateful.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Justine Green, Ed.D., an educator, author, and disability advocate based in Boca Raton, Florida, where she currently serves as the Principal at Tamim Academy.
Justine was born with Atresia and Microtia. Microtia is a condition where the outer ear does not develop properly and Atresia is the absence of the ear canal, leaving her deaf in her left ear. Knowing she was different from birth, and boasting three reconstructive surgeries under her belt, Justine learned to read lips and worked hard through school. She used her disability as motivation instead of an excuse, and ultimately found her life’s purpose through these challenges. Her passion for inspiring others moved to her to write a story based on her own life, Completely Me, to teach readers to love themselves and others, and that everyone’s imperfections are what make them perfect.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I chose this career path because I was always drawn to children and they have always been drawn to me. I used to be a mother’s helper after school, and I babysat all throughout high school. When I got to college, I switched my major so many times. It was exhausting. Finally, I decided to try out education so that I could be the best mom possible one day. Something clicked instantly. The first semester I switched into education was my first semester with a 4.0 GPA. I was meant to work in education. Also, being a person with disabilities, realized it was only through my own self-acceptance that I could become an advocate for others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The amazing part of writing a book based on my own true story is that my honesty and openness has caused others to be honest and open with me. Since Completely Me was published, I have had so many people reach out and tell me their own story about their disability, or a relative with atresia or deaf parents. It’s been astonishing to see the outpouring of truth from my readers. It’s important to know that you are not alone, and the message is clearly resonating.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was student-teaching, I had to be formally observed teaching every subject by my professors. I was teaching my math observation, and covering area and perimeter. I always thought that length was the longer side, and width was the measurement connecting the long sides. I taught the whole lesson incorrectly. My professors brought me outside after class, and couldn’t contain their laughter. I had to reteach the lesson and apologize to the students- and taught them another great lesson, that everyone makes mistakes, but we learn from them. Still, I was mortified! I couldn’t believe it. I laugh at it now, but I was so embarrassed.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Because of my own background and experience in classrooms as someone with disabilities, I now advocate for students with disabilities and the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms. The tolerance, patience, understanding, and empathy that develop when exposed to peers who have disabilities is important in creating a more inclusive society for all.
I wrote about my own disability and how others pointed out the differences they saw in me before they took the time to get to know me. I hope that my story shows young readers that no one will ever understand how it feels to be another person. It’s not fair for people to impose their idea of “completeness,” physically, mentally, or emotionally, upon another person. I hope that my story will be the catalyst to start the conversation for parents, teachers, and children about how to notice the good before you notice the unusual, and also that not everyone needs your help. My goal is to turn Completely Me into a series that highlights many other disabilities and the utilization of accommodations in classrooms, empowering readers with disabilities and fostering better understanding from others.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
There has been such an outpouring of positive feedback from readers and their parents that has been so encouraging. A particular one that stands out, however, is when I had a mom contact me to tell me that her daughter, born with an eye disorder, loved Completely Me because it made her feel like she was not alone in being different. She told me, “She made me read it five times in a row the first day. It also made her understand that it is ok to be different and that is what makes her unique. She talks about her friend, Justine, all the time. The book started some great conversations.” At only three-and-a-half years old, she was able to understand the message of the book and see herself represented. Stories like these make me so grateful to do what I do.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes! There are quite a few things I could point to, but here are my top three.
- Create an environment that is supportive for students with disabilities and their use of accommodations in classrooms. Too often, students find themselves feeling as if they are a burden by using accommodations and that they do not want to be “that kid” anymore. The use of accommodations helps to level the playing field and provide the means to quality education, just like their peers receive. It should never be something that students feel bad about utilizing or feel as though they are bothering their teachers or classmates.
- We need to educate families about their rights and provide information about their child being a federally protected individual. Many families, parents, and children do not fully understand what they are entitled to and what services are available for their child.
- Policymakers should make disability training and sensitivity counseling a mandatory aspect of faculty professional development. This training can improve the climate, comfort, and support experience of students with disabilities. In my dissertation, I found that campus climate, comfort and support with faculty and administrators, as well as professor knowledge, were indicators of the likelihood of student self-disclosure and use of support services.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, leadership is about guidance, understanding, support, and decisiveness. Leading is the act of doing and motivating others. One piece of advice a mentor gave me that I constantly reference, is that as a leader, you have to be ready to get your hands dirty… that it’s not fair to ask an employee to do something that you yourself would not do. To lead is the art of motivating others to work towards a common goal.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- When I set out to publish Completely Me, I learned very fast that publishing a book is a long, tough process, and the chances of it taking off and becoming successful is small. I didn’t realize this when I was starting, and by the time I learned, I was already too far to turn back! It made me push even harder. We even created our own publishing company, Green Rose Publishing LLC, so we have had total control over the process. It has been a huge learning curve, but I am motivated by the challenge and hopeful that while many great books do not make it far, Completely Me will rise above.
- Every hardship or speed bump on your journey, whether it’s having a disability, not knowing what your college major should be, or getting rejected from a publisher, add up to make you who you are. If it weren’t for my disabilities, I may not have known of my passion for inclusion, achieved my level of education, and become an advocate for others with disabilities. If it weren’t for the rocky road trying to publish my story, I wouldn’t have created Green Rose Publishing with my husband, and Completely Me may not have found its way into the hands of children whose lives will be different because of the story. All of these experiences have lead me to where I am today, and I’m grateful.
- I don’t know if anyone could have told me this ahead of time, but I learned a LOT about myself through having two kids while I was finishing my doctorate and working! Time management, organization, patience and hard work are all things I learned throughout this process- and it has served me well in my work and advocacy.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is a great question. If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I would hope to inspire others to see the good and the commonalities before the different. We are all unique in our own ways. No two people are the same, and understanding differences as commonalities is key to making progress for people with disabilities. People with disabilities start off at a disadvantage when it comes to educational attainment, employment opportunities, and institutional victimization. For example, in my dissertation, I noted that the employment and graduation gaps between people with and without disabilities are both more than 41 percentage points for those who enroll in four-year and two-year institutions. Likewise, the employment rate for people with disabilities is only 20% to 68.5% for people without disabilities. It’s time that we recognize the able-ist society that we have created and make changes to create an inclusive world beyond ramps and elevators.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The world is always trying to communicate with you, you just have to open your eyes to see it.” I had an incredible mentor at Urgent, inc. in Overtown, FL, who taught me to recognize the lessons and the gifts provided by the world around us. Every morning, we would circle around a large tree with our students, water it together and thank our ancestors for overcoming the obstacles in their way in order for them to reproduce and survive for us. We would spend time outside, having deep conversations about life. One time, we were talking about how our students may not have food at home, or that they may sleep below the window line in their apartments because of pistol shots. It was absolutely moving, and I started to cry. At that exact moment, a huge hawk almost fell out of the tree branch above us, but hung on with its talons, flapping its wings multiple times. It made sure it had our attention. Then, it flew off. My mentor made me research what the hawk symbolizes, and it represents knowledge and learning a powerful lesson.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet and speak to Oprah! Imagine if I could have a private meal with her to discuss disability advocacy and impact. I feel as though she would listen wholeheartedly and together we could make real change.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My personal account is @drmommygreen and you can follow Completely Me @completelymebook.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!