By Darlene Donloe
Areva Martin has a lot to say on a lot of subjects.
Her expertise on a myriad of topics ranging from law to leadership, racial and gender equity, mentorship, women’s rights, success principles, disability rights and more, has made the popular award-winning Los Angeles civil rights attorney, one of the nation’s leading voices in the media.
She’s a USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling author, an advocate, a legal and social issues commentator and a talk show host.
A CNN and HLN legal analyst and contributor, Martin is currently the host of the web-based, in-depth current affairs talk show, “The Special Report with Areva Martin” and “Areva Martin Out Loud” on KBLA Talk Radio.
Her accomplishments and credits are vast and deep. She has an unending enthusiasm for life and work. Giving voice to her community is in Martin’s DNA.
These days she’s busy as the founding member of Martin & Martin LLP, one of Los Angeles’ premier African-American female-owned law firms, and she recently released her fourth book, “Awakening: Ladies, Leadership and the Lies We’ve Been Told.”
She is also the founder and president of Special Needs Network, a leading disability, children’s health and social justice nonprofit. The organization provides services to hundreds of thousands of children and families.
Martin, the mother of an autistic son (Marty), believes Black and brown children with autism are discriminated against. She has raised millions of dollars for autism and related causes.
This fall, SNN’s state-of-the-art clinic, in the heart of what she calls “the Blackest and brownest neighborhoods in the state,” is slated to open.
Martin, who moved to Los Angeles from St. Louis 20 years ago, is a married mother of three who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of Chicago and cum laude from Harvard Law School.
I recently caught up with Martin, an avid runner, to talk about her various projects and how she manages to balance them all.
DD: Why did you choose law and Harvard?
AM: It was at the beginning of my junior year at the University of Chicago. Less than 10% of the students were Black. Two Black guys I worked on projects with were applying to Harvard. I knew their intellectual prowess. It struck a chord with me. They weren’t taking classes seriously. I thought, if they can get in, I can get in. They didn’t know they were inspiring me. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and get a law degree.
DD: Let’s talk about your most recent book, “Awakening: Ladies, Leadership, and Lies We’ve Been Told.” In the book, you talk about outdated generational gender roles.
AM: I have always been obsessed and intrigued by gender roles. I had to ask myself in jobs, what’s more prominent racism or sexism? I was often mistaken for the secretary or the clerk. Rarely was I given the respect of my male partners even though I was writing the checks. When George Floyd was murdered, it prompted me to bring out my notes. As a Black woman I ask myself, is it race or gender?
DD: What is your writing process?
AM: There are notebooks all over my house. I’m a visual person. I have all the modern technologies but I still like to write in little black 5-by-7 notebooks. I’ll jot something down. There are tons of them all over my house. Morning, noon and night, I have a notebook. They are my security blanket.
DD: What do you want people to get from reading your books?
AM: I want it to cause them to have uncomfortable conversations. We can’t face what we don’t acknowledge. I don’t have all the answers, but I have some solutions in the book. There is gender bias. You can’t point to one and extrapolate it over the entire female population.
DD: In writing the book, what did you find out about yourself?
AM: It’s hard to confront the women in my life who I revere. Hard to acknowledge that what they taught me didn’t serve me well. I give my godmother and grandmother credit, but a lot of what they told me was wrong. They had been taught the same lies. Confronting that was painful.
DD: What is one of the lies they told you?
AM: I outline five of them in the book. The first one from my godmother was that the system would recognize my hard work. I pride myself in that — you can’t outwork me. I always prided myself that I am the hardest worker you will ever meet. The hardest worker is not always the most successful. There is something that holds us back on promotions and getting paid what we’re worth. A Black woman with Harvard credentials is still a Black woman.
DD: Are you a workaholic?
AM: That’s not a word I would use. That has negative connotations. Images are you work so much that you neglect your health, your family and personal relationships. The traditional workaholic is removed from everything. That’s not me.
DD: You are a special needs mom. Your son, Marty, was diagnosed at the age of 2. He’s now 20. What did you do when you found out his diagnosis?
AM: I cried when I heard. The doctor had no answers. Will he go to school? Will he talk? All I heard was, ‘I don’t know.’
DD: Why did you cry?
AM: We cried because of the uncertainty. It wasn’t a positive difference. It hurt. You want your child to achieve everything. Limitations hurt. It was my beginning of denial and grief. I was depressed for months and then I went into anger. I had a range of emotions. I had to go learn all new stuff. I was now in the system. My grandmother was paraplegic. She had been shot. She was in the system, so I was in the system. When you have a child with autism, you’re thrown back into the system. Everything you asked for was a “no.” I had to use all my lawyering and advocacy. I had to sue LAUSD to get my son in a class in a school I wanted. I quickly understood that free resources aren’t free because you have to fight for them. You’re in fight mode. You become a warrior. The person who is persistent will get the resources. Thankfully, my son is fantastic now.
DD: Tell me about the Special Needs Network.
AM: The administrative offices are on Crenshaw. We are close to opening the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities or CAAD, which is a part of the county of Los Angeles. The MLK Child and Family Well-being Center has been renamed the Jacqueline Avant Children and Family Center at the MLK medical campus. It’s located at 120th and Wilmington – next door to Charles R. Drew University. It is part of a larger center that will open at the end of December. From that location, we will provide therapies, speech, occupational and family therapy, applied behavior and mental health therapy, transportation, family counseling, wrap-around services and legal services, housing and job training. We are offering a myriad of services for families at that center.
DD: What can people expect when they visit the state-of-the-art facility?
AM: A transformative experience for kids and families in South L.A. For the first time, they come to a place in their own community and are able to have developmental care. For the Black/brown community this is a must.
DD: The Special Needs Network opened in 2005. Why is it important to you?
AM: It’s important because I grew up with a grandmother who was a paraplegic. It allows me to continue to work in the disabled community. It’s my way of giving back and helping my community. Gives me more joy than anything I’ve done professionally. A mother telling me, ‘thank you for helping my child’ — there is nothing like it.
“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most popular newsmakers or celebrities.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.