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Top 100 honoree Debbie Cooley: Fort Worth is a great city, but not for everyone

Fort Worth has built a legacy of leadership across its history, with outstanding leaders in business, government and all walks of life. No city in Texas, in America or in the world, for that matter, can boast a prouder list of great leaders. So, choosing an individual to honor with our Legacy of Business Leadership Award is not a decision we take lightly. This year, we chose Debbie Cooley, founder and president of M-Pak Inc.

Cooley began her career in 1974 with a major packaging supplier that had 133 branches nationwide. She was the first woman the company had ever hired for outside sales. In 1999 she launched M-Pak Inc. in her garage, investing her life savings of $10,000 in a business that produced first-year sales of $133,000. Sales projections for 2021 exceed $13 million.

M-Pak expanded in 2012, opening its tactical clothing and uniform store, and now is an industrial packaging and tactical gear supplier for private businesses, local and state agencies, the military, the aerospace industry, and major retailers. The company has five locations nationwide, and recently launched a medical division.

Cooley’s civic involvement is extensive and she has received many awards for her achievements.

Speaking to the Top 100 audience, Cooley discussed the importance of civic involvement for business leaders.

“We truly have a lot to celebrate here in Fort Worth. We’re now the 12th largest city in the nation with unlimited opportunities and one of the strongest job markets and economies in the country,” she said. “And all the while we have open spaces and working ranches just 15 minutes west of here. It is a wonderful city to live in.”

Cooley said she is invested in Fort Worth and that carries with it responsibilities.

“My favorite mantra is, ‘Every part of your life shows up in every other part of your life.’ An example is if you get fired from your job, you’re probably not too chatty around the dinner table that night or care about what your kids did. If you come home and your spouse has cleaned out your bank account and your furniture and your house, you’re probably not too alert at business the next day. So hence every part of your life shows up in every other part.

“And everything happening in Fort Worth shows up in every other part of Fort Worth. While we have so much to be proud of, did you know that Tarrant County bounces between number two and three in incidences of child abuse in the state of Texas? That’s nothing to be proud of.”

“Also, if you aren’t already aware, we have a community here in Fort Worth named Como, that’s a mile and a half from here … Como has an average annual income somewhere around $26,000, and that’s not something to be proud of. It’s not comfortable to think about child abuse and poverty. It’s more palatable to think that people who smack their kids around just need to be vaporized. And I agree with that. However, we can vaporize the abuser, but the child that has been abused remains, and that child has experienced ACEs, an acronym for adverse childhood experiences. A study done by the CDC classifies ACEs as traumatic experiences that occur in the lives of children, such as violence, abuse, neglect, or just witnessing violence in the home or community. The study also reports that over 61% of us have experienced at least one ACE with women, and several racial, ethnic minority groups are at greater risk for experiencing four or more ACEs.

“Also, according to the CDC, exposure to ACEs actually changes the brainstem and has a long-lasting effect on the well-being and life opportunities such as education and job potential. Hence the abused child is at an extremely high risk for practically everything we don’t want our children to have in their lives. The cost of ACEs is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. With Fort Worth being the 12th largest city in the United States and Tarrant County being second or third in Texas in child abuse, what do you think that costs here in Fort Worth? How is that part of what we’re showing up in all other parts of Fort Worth? How about let’s be even prouder to live in Fort Worth and end child abuse here.”

Cooley also discussed her involvement in the Como neighborhood.

“We have plenty, unfortunately, of underserved communities here in Fort Worth. I just happen to be very fond of Como, so that’s my focus here tonight. I happen to serve on the board there also. You all… Let me back up here. These are the folks that are repeatedly being told to pull up their bootstraps and categorized as lazy, drug dealers, convicts, et cetera. And that’s true. Some of them are. However, if you travel east on Camp Bowie and turn left on Horne, you’ll find some of the same in Westover Hills. The difference is, these lazy people often have trust funds, wealthy families, and influence in Fort Worth. Should they find themselves in the throes of substance abuse, they’re likely to go to a rehab that costs more than the average Como resident makes in several years. And they have really nice stuff and really fun parties, and we keep them around because we might meet somebody really cool at one of these parties.

“My point is, please consider the path that many people in underserved neighborhoods are born to and have traveled. Was it one of abuse? Health issues that they couldn’t afford? Do they have a special needs child that requires costly therapy? Are they caring for elderly parents? Did they experience the numerous ACEs? If Como residents had the resources that Westover Hills has, and vice versa, how would that work?”

Cooley also talked about her ideas of happiness, tying it in with her original mantra. 

“You can be happy alone. You can win a game. You can get a promotion. You can feel really, really big about yourself. Happiness is the expansion of self. The joy is the merger of self. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you forget where you end and something else begins, when you are really seeing deeply into each other. Let’s look deeply into each other and our communities here in Fort Worth and make sure the goodness and the greatness of Fort Worth shows up everywhere in Fort Worth.”

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