In a remarkable journey marked by resilience, adaptability, and a deep commitment to advocacy, Marilyn Green has risen to prominence in the National Federation of the Blind. Elected to the National Board of Directors in July of 2023, Marilyn's story is one of
overcoming obstacles, shattering stereotypes, and forging a path of leadership and
inspiration for many.
Early Life and Challenges
Born on June 12 in Blue Island, a suburb of Chicago, Marilyn's life was characterized by a quiet, introspective nature. Perhaps this came from being an only child or, just as likely, it is one of the native attributes that has made Marilyn a special person. When asked about her family life, Marilyn humorously remarks, "I have lots of kids, but no tuition."
Marilyn did not initially think much of her vision and never considered herself blind. She understood that she wore thick glasses, but she was confident that the reason she sat at the front of the room was that was where the smart people sat. Her blindness stemmed from an amalgamation of cellulitis, glaucoma, and cone-rod dystrophy. If she moved more timidly than others, sometimes on tiptoe, she chalked this up to being cautious, an attribute that she considered totally consistent with being smart.
It wasn't until she started experiencing debilitating migraines at sixteen that the reality of her situation began to unfold. Not one to look for excuses or reasons to complain, she considered the migraines a difficulty she would just have to deal with, and if they came on as a result of reading too much, she would just do a better job of managing her reading load.
Education and Early Career Struggles
Her academic journey, though challenging, was marked by determination and excellence. Marilyn attended Edgar Allan Poe Classical School during her elementary years and Morgan Park for her junior high and high school education, the latter being a renowned magnet school. She cherished her high school years, forming friendships that remain strong to this day. “Some of those friends were hard to make, and perhaps that is why they have endured.”
Marilyn pursued higher education at DePaul University, majoring in english literature and women’s studies. Loving literature, it is no surprise that her first job was in publishing. Struggling with the intense reading load and unable to differentiate between font changes due to her worsening vision, Marilyn faced the harsh reality of having to admit to blindness and techniques that blind people would use, or taking what she saw as the high road, refusing any accommodations, and quitting her job. The fact that she was valued in that job was clearly evidenced by the suggestion of her supervisor that together they work on accommodations, but Marilyn would have none of it. She called her mother with the message, “Mom, I’m coming home.”
Finding Her Path
It was in this period of introspection and recalibration that Marilyn found a new calling. She transitioned to a role at the Chicago Public Library, where she thrived as a reader advisor. Her responsibilities ranged from teaching computer skills to conducting financial literacy classes to educating on landlord-tenant rights. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted another career shift, leading her to her current position as the director of an agency for the blind.
Impact and Advocacy in the National Federation of the Blind
Marilyn's work with the National Federation of the Blind has been transformative. She passionately advocates for those of us who are blind, emphasizing the importance of maintaining personal connections and thinking beyond oneself. Her legislative work has been instrumental in increasing the number of cosponsors from Illinois for national legislation. Moreover, her efforts in mentoring, raising funds for scholarships, and her involvement in the Story Bank Program of the Federation have been invaluable.
Marilyn's personal life is as vibrant as her professional one. Despite her busy schedule, she finds time for yoga, loves travel, and is an avid Spanish speaker, something that serves her well when she goes to Puerto Rico, a place she loves.
Marilyn joined the Federation by being part of the member-at-large chapter and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the state president in 2020. Her first national convention in Florida was a turning point, solidifying her commitment to the organization and its cause. Her decision to attend was pragmatic. She reasoned that if she liked it, she would participate, and if she didn’t like it, she would visit Disneyland and other tourist attractions. She instantly felt a part of all that was going on, and as she participated, her commitment to the organization grew.
The Essence of Leadership
Marilyn's approach to leadership is grounded in humility and self-awareness. She believes in the importance of not losing oneself in titles and positions. Her friends describe her as fun-loving, adventurous, and an excellent communicator—qualities that are essential in a leader. Her life mantra, "I never plan to forget who I am and where I’ve come from," reflects her grounded and genuine approach to life and leadership.
Marilyn Green's journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, adaptability, and the human spirit's capacity to overcome challenges. Her story is not just about dealing with blindness but about seeing the world in a more compassionate, understanding, and inclusive way. As she continues her work with the National Federation of the Blind, Marilyn vows that success will not be the path that leads to arrogance, indifference, and an insurmountable distance between her and those who get so much from her. On the contrary, she will continue to advocate for a world in which every individual has the opportunity to thrive and contribute meaningfully, and she will do so as quietly and unnoticed as she can.