By Vicki French Bennington
Areva Martin achieves success through hard work and forward thinking.
Growing up in North St. Louis, Areva Martin knew that she would one day, do something big.
Did she realize she would be a managing partner in the largest female-owned, African-American Los Angeles law firm, a featured guest on television shows like “The Dr. Phil Show,” a recurring co-host on “The Doctors,” and legal analyst on CNN news? And perhaps, an author? Maybe not, but she knew there was something bigger out there – somewhere.
“I saw so many inequities in our lives, and as a child, I would always ask myself why we had so much less than others. I wanted to do something to change it,” Martin said. “I knew I wanted to go to college, and I wanted to become a lawyer.”
With a work ethic inspired by her grandmother and godmother, a lot of determination and years of plain old hard work, Martin has achieved all of that and more.
In her recently released third book, “Make it Rain, How to Use the Media to Revolutionize Your Business and Brand,” she shares some of her insights and life lessons to enable others to have a voice in issues they feel strongly about.
Martin became acutely aware that others needed this kind of help after her son, Marty, now 17, was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old.
“I had my law practice in L.A., and after my son’s diagnosis, there was at first, a lot of despair. But I realized that I needed to have time to take care of him, figure out his complex level of needs like speech, occupational and behavioral therapies, and help make sure he got the best care possible,” Martin said.
That was when her husband, Ernest, came in to the firm to help (even though he was running two other businesses). She formed the grassroots Special Needs Network Inc. to raise awareness of autism and to help other mothers and caregivers navigate the myriad of available services to obtain care for children on the autism spectrum.
“In California, many of the services are free, but finding them and getting them can be difficult, especially in underserved areas,” Martin said.
She saw some of that type of inequity growing up, as well. Her grandmother was a paraplegic, who used a wheelchair in a small apartment in a housing project in the 1970. She was raising her grandchildren and at that time, it wasn’t easy to get around or even leave the house in the heavy wheelchairs of the day. Martin lived with her part of her childhood and later, moved in with her godmother. She said though it was often difficult to steer clear of trouble from outside influences, she did.
“It helped that I got involved with cheerleading at school and went to the skating rink every weekend,” she said. She was also involved with Junior Achievement.
But they grew up in poverty, and she remembers standing in line for free government cheese with one of her three brothers, who was terribly embarrassed to have to do it.
“But I was more worried about what Grandma would say if we came home without it,” Martin said.
Martin’s mother had her children very young, and left the city to find a job, sending money back home. She didn’t meet her father until she was 18. He drove to St. Louis for a reunion and took her to Chicago University to start college – the first person in her family to do so.
“My father told me that it was a prestigious college – which I didn’t know – and that Nobel Peace Prize winners had graduated from there,” Martin said. “It scared me, and I had a horrifying first semester.
“One girl in particular, mocked the way I spoke. I was out of my safety zone. They were all super smart, and it was an academically rigorous environment,” she added.
She became selectively mute because she didn’t want to be ridiculed. She worked on improving her speech and tapped into that work ethic she obtained from her primary mentors – her grandmother and godmother – studying 12 hours a day, catching up academically, making her realize that she had an insane work ethic, too – and that was her equalizer.
“It became a level playing field through my grit and hard work,” she said.
As her grades improved, she obtained academic scholarships, and after graduating with a degree in economics and a 3.8 GPA, she went on to Harvard Law School, managed financially through a combination of scholarships, loans and grants. After graduation, she went to work at a large, corporate, L.A. law firm in – her dream job. But it wasn’t gratifying.
“I was in the nice building and office, making plenty of money, but stuff is just stuff,” Martin said. “And stuff is important, but I wanted more control of the work I did, and wanted to be involved with real people – especially women and children and civil rights.”
Even though her friends and family thought she was a little crazy, she gave up the corporate job after only two years.
“While some of the lawyers were buying houses on the beach and living the high life, with my Midwestern roots, I had bought a cheap apartment and was banking my money, so I was able to quit my job,” she said.
She began working with a friend making almost zero money – and pursued the kind of law she felt she was meant to do. Eventually, the two opened a law firm together.
“It was my time to be risky – to give it a try,” she said. “And that never felt like work.”
She had met her husband – who was from L.A. – in law school, and eventually, the two married and started a family.
They had two daughters – both now in college, with one heading to law school soon.
After their son was born and later, diagnosed, and during her quest to find treatment for him, she met many parents and children in lower-income communities who were having a hard time accessing the services that would help with diagnoses similar to Marty’s. From that realization, Special Needs Network was born.
She ended up writing the book, “The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism or Other Special Needs” as a guide to assist even more people.
As a result of her work with the law and with autism advocacy, she found that people were listening to her. Television appearances and contracts became more frequent. As her opportunities increased, she realized that many people had opinions on a myriad of topics, but weren’t sure how to be heard. That’s where “Make It Rain” comes in.
“In this hyper-charged environment, there are a lot of people who have things to say, but aren’t sure how to gain a voice. Hopefully, this book will help them, as well as entrepreneurs, business owners, and those with a ‘cause,’” she said. “If you touch a computer, the book will resonate with you.”
In the fall, Martin will co-host a new CBS conflict talk show, “Face the Truth,” which she says is a little like “The View” meets “The Dr. Phil Show.”
With her busy schedule, you would think it would be easy to forego a workout routine, but hitting the pavement every morning keeps Martin balanced.
“It’s my only time to really think,” she said. “And if I don’t do it, I feel sluggish, guilty and tired.”
And it’s paid off, not only with keeping her in great shape, but healthy, so she can pursue her hectic schedule. It seems the more she takes on, the more resilient she realizes she can be. And her family helps keep her grounded emotionally. The family of five is “super close,” Martin said, and spends as much time as possible together. As for her beauty routine, she said that off camera or off work, she is casual and comfortable.
“I have to dress up and take care of myself for work and television, but I’m not glammed up every day. You would find me with no makeup, my hair pulled back, wearing sweats,” she said.
Martin usually makes it back to St. Louis once a year to visit brothers, aunts and cousins. This year, she will be in the city for two days as part of her book tour. On May 7, she will appear at the Maryville University Auditorium; on May 8, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis Education Entrepreneur Showcase.
photo by Russel Baer