The Social Newspaper – January 2016
It is rare that you get to have a conversation with someone that you do not know personally, but your stories are so parallel. I was blessed to have that conversation with a woman that if you saw our footprints on the road they would start in the same streets of St. Louis, take a few detours, but meet up again in very familiar ways.
Areva Martin, Esq., yes Esquire, is a successful sought out Civil Rights Attorney with a thriving law firm, Martin & Martin LLP, based in Los Angeles. As for any successful person it does not start with the glitz and glamour of the Los Angeles spotlight. So pay close attention as you continue to read her back story because there are so many jewels to be picked up and life lessons to be learned from her experiences. Areva grew up in the St. Louis streets of Carr Square Village with roots in the Jefferson Cass area and Riverview. She can remember at about the age of five or six, she and a childhood friend had dreams of becoming a lawyer, her path, a doctor, her friend’s path. Which by the grace of God and the village that surrounded them are living out those very dreams, but not without challenges and obstacles along the way.
Areva was raised by her grandmother, who she helped on a daily basis because she was bound to a wheelchair due to her being a paraplegic caused by a traumatic domestic violence incident. Her Godmother, Ethel Thomas, who was her grandmother’s best friend, was also an important staple in her upbringing. Both women believed in her without limitations while instilling endless possibilities. Garnering an education from St. Nicholas Elementary School and graduating from Rosati Kain High School, Areva was surrounded by peers from affluent communities that were not use to hearing the words “no or that is not possible”, as would be the contrary each day she returned home to her neighborhood. She could have easily been thrust into the temptations of her surrounding four walls, but her village knew there was more for her.
Areva, who was a first generation college student went on to attend and graduate with honors from the University of Chicago as well as Harvard Law School. You can catch her regularly on shows like Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper’s 360, the go-to legal analyst for CNN as well as making countless other worldwide television appearances as the voice on social justice issues, celebrity news and women issues. If that is not already a great foundation for success, Areva has earned numerous awards for her commitment to her causes and community as well as appeared in a plethora of national periodicals. I believe she would say her greatest achievement is becoming an advocate for her son, affectionately called Marty, who was diagnosed with autism when he was just 2 years old. This is where our paths really meet back up on the road. The unconditional love for her child, in my case granddaughter, with a special need causes you to do whatever it takes to ensure their best and healthiest outcome. After six months of uncertainty and finally getting a proper diagnosis for Marty, one would think, with having a thriving law firm and being very active in L.A.’s local affairs as a community leader, resources and services for Marty would be readily available, but Areva would soon learn that was not the case at all. Out of her frustration and finding other families in the South Los Angeles area with the same needs, but with fewer connections and resources, led Areva to start her own nonprofit organization, Special Needs Network Incorporated and writing her bestselling book, The Everyday Advocate, Standing Up for Your Child with Autism and Other Special Needs. The second book she authored. Her first being, Journey to the Top, focused on climbing the corporate ladder of success. But in Areva’s eyes it was not fair that just because families come from a less socioeconomic status or ethnic background they should have fewer opportunities for their child with special needs than those families that live in a more affluent part of town. Not that those resources came easy to her, but she had more than other families. Even as Areva grew up with the special needs of her grandmother, never did she think she would play such a starring role in the special needs community.
As a person who’s not use to NOT having answers or being able to find answers the lack of accessibility did not sit well with her. Being familiar with the term autism is completely different from being a person desperately needing answers for the condition. “It was not something considered to be a condition in African American community, Areva stated. It was like taking an autism crash course.” She had to immerse herself in finding literature to understand the condition. The research of resources available to her or the lack thereof through her health care provider and the public school system is what led her to step into the shoes as advocate for Marty. There were no Toni Braxton’s, Tisha Campbell-Martin’s or Holly Robinson-Peete’s to bring it to the forefront as there are today.
The mission for Special Needs Network Inc. has always been and will always be to address the needs of families in underserved and marginalized communities in addition to end the feeling of isolation as if families are out there on an island all alone. To learn more about SNN and all their resources please visit www.snnla.org.
We could not leave this conversation without addressing the injustice that face the very city Areva was raised in. Of course, I am speaking about the murder of Michael Brown Jr. Areva says she remembers the day vividly. As she is leaving a fundraising event in Los Angeles she gets a phone call to ask your legal expert opinion of a young man in her hometown named Michael Brown who had been murdered by a former St. Louis County police officer and laid uncovered for four hours in the middle of the street. This of course begins a world wind of interviews on national news shows which she was all familiar. Areva remembers wanting to ensure she gets the story right from the people that were on the ground and right in the thick of the matter. What she also remembers is her twitter feed exploding with such offensive and racist comments just because she had the credentials to share her expertise.
To be in a position to sit at the table with other experts that had the same credentials and watch the conversations evolve since the Mike Brown incident and the Black Lives Matter movement began, In her words, “Was astonishing to see how disingenuous people are of the indisputable facts that exist in our criminal justice system due to their own agendas.” What those conversations have shown her is that although this problem exist and we know it exist “they” refuse to acknowledge, even greater, take responsibility for allowing the continuation of the huge disparities in the very system that teaches us we are innocent until proven guilty.
I asked Areva, “What is the one thing she think would bring peace to what is happening in our nation right now?” If we are to get any resolve in the state of our nation right now, Areva believes it starts with honest dialogue. “We will not and cannot even start moving the conversation forward until we stop talking about apple and oranges and begin with truth”, she adds. Even if we conclude with different outcomes at least let’s have an honest conversation. As Areva so eloquently concluded, “With honest dialogue comes change and when it comes to a redistribution of resources and power, change may never happen.”
I wanted to close our conversation by asking Areva my final Sharing is Caring question, “What is the one thing you would share with your younger self being the women you are today?” her answer was powerfully stated. What she would share are the lessons she learned around fear. Growing up where she did, but being exposed to her educational peers she saw a fearlessness in those from a more affluent background. She saw an air of confidence when those kids walked in the room. Those kids were not taught no or shown the impossible. All they knew was success and the expectation was to be successful. That was not the story of those she grew up with in Carr Square or those girls she work with in South L.A., but her power message remains the same and I quote, “Do Not Start Your Life with the Expectation of Failure.” As mentioned earlier, surround yourself with the proper village, identify a mentor so that young girls from less socioeconomic backgrounds can walk in a room with the same air of confidence. As we both agreed, when you get some level of success or have an influential voice it is your responsibility to become that mentor for some young girl. Areva simply says, “Reach Back.”