By Tia Lynn Ivey
Deborah Massey, a one-woman insurance extraordinaire, is our pick this week to highlight as one of our local African-American success stories during Black History Month. Madison Mayor Fred Perriman chose Deborah, who built her insurance business from the ground up, as a shining local example of hard work and determination for others to admire and from whom to learn.
“Despite the odds and resistance, or any discrimination you may face, you can make it,” said Perriman. “That’s what I hope people can learn from her.”
With 33 years of insurance experience under her belt, Massey has owned and operated her own company offering life and health insurance in Madison for the last 21 years.
“When I first started out, I didn’t even have a desk. I had a folding card table and a very old and basic computer. Some people said I wouldn’t last a year in business,” said Deborah. “But I was determined. I always wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to make my own money and be my own boss,” said Massey. “It was very challenging, having to compete with all the big insurance companies out there, but slowly over time through word-of-mouth, I built up my company’s reputation for being reputable and trustworthy.”
Massey, 62, was born and raised in Madison, attending Pearl Street High School and then transferring to Morgan County High School after schools were integrated during her freshman year.
“Growing up back then with things the way they were, I never thought doing something like this would be possible,” said Deborah. Back then Deborah was inspired by the principal of Pearl Street High School, Marie Martin.
“She meant a lot to us black women at the time,” remembered Deborah. “She really stuck out to us. She was one of the few black women that held such a position. She was authoritative and she wore it well. She was great in our sight. I always remembered her while trying to make it in my own career.”
Deborah never dreamed that her business would include such a diverse cliental as it does today. “Even with my customers now, I have both black and white clients. It’s incredible how far we have come.”
Massey began her journey as an entrepreneur with adopting a philosophy of “above-and-beyond” service to establish her company.
“A person has to really trust you and they have to know that you have their best interest at heart—when you do good for them, they will tell somebody else. And that’s what I tried to do, to always to the best I could for each and everyone one of my clients.”
Deborah and her husband Felton Massey have five daughters, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Deborah is an evangelist at Calvary Baptist Church and the Sunday School Superintendent. Deborah has instilled in her children, her children’s children, and her students, the same message she hopes all young people will take to heart.
“You can do anything you set your mind to,” said Deborah. “I think in the black community especially, this is something that needs to be heard. So many people have told us we can’t do this or that, and we’ve been knocked down so many times. When you’ve been knocked down again and again, some people just don’t get back up. But we have to get back up and keep going.”
Deborah encourages young people to find strength through faith.
“I’m a Christian, and I don’t believe I could have done this without faith in God. God is my strength when I had none of my own,” said Deborah.
“I want to see our young people step outside of the box,” said Deborah. “Because that is what it takes to make it. Don’t let people keep you in a box. Step outside of it and face the challenges and rejections, and keep going and doing your best and you can make it.”