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Attorney Areva Martin: “It always seems impossible until it’s done”

The catalyst for me was my son’s Marty’s diagnosis with autism. That was a life-changing event for me. After his diagnosis, I couldn’t say the word autism without weeping. I was depressed for months. After a while, I realized that my son needed me to jump into action. He taught me so much about myself […]


The catalyst for me was my son’s Marty’s diagnosis with autism. That was a life-changing event for me. After his diagnosis, I couldn’t say the word autism without weeping. I was depressed for months. After a while, I realized that my son needed me to jump into action. He taught me so much about myself and my capacity to give, to be empathetic and to serve. I met so many families who had so fewer resources than my family that it compelled me to want to help others. My way of helping was at first through providing legal advice through my law firm. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to do more to help families. Thus, I started a nonprofit where I could scale up services and reach millions through my TV platform and social media presence. Special Needs Network is now one of the country’s premier autism and social justice organizations. We have served tens of thousands of families; raised tens of millions of dollars for autism; and made the issue of serving underserved families with disabilities a national issue. In the Fall of this year, we will open the first-ever integrated autism and medical center in the heart of one of LA’s poorest neighborhoods to provide thousands of kids and families with ABA therapy, free legal assistance, social and job skills training, mental health support, and early intervention and after school programs for underserved kids.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Areva Martin.

Areva Martin is an author, award-winning civil rights attorney, talk show host, commentator and go-to expert on compelling legal, political, women’s, children’s and celebrity issues. Areva is the founder and president of Special Needs Network, one of the nation’s premier autism advocacy organizations for underserved communities and is an audience favorite on a long list of television networks and programs, including CNN, Dr. Phil, The Doctors and Good Morning America.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I grew up poor in a housing project in North St. Louis, MO with my grandmother who was a paraplegic and my Godmother who worked as a janitor and housekeeper.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Yes, Little Women; my grandmother, my older brother and I lived in a tiny four-room apartment, and although we were poor, the apartment was filled with books. My grandmother loved to read and instilled that love in me at a very early age. She gave me a copy of “Little Women” when I was 11 or 12 years old. The size of the book was incredibly intimidating. I would sit on the floor next to my grandmother’s bed and read chapters aloud. I couldn’t relate to the girls and at times the story seemed corny to me, but reading a big, thick book like that helped me develop a love for reading and taught me that books can take you places far beyond your imagination or dreams. The book was mandatory reading for my daughters Michael and Morgan!

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Yes. Nelson Mandela’s, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I use this quote a lot because it epitomizes my life in many ways. So many things that I have accomplished seemed impossible to me and many around me. The quote reminds me that mountains are meant to be moved and to never count myself out. It also reminds me that hard work, prayer and a positive attitude can help you accomplish things beyond your expectation — like being the first in your family to graduate from college, attending Harvard Law School, becoming a leading voice in the media, writing two bestselling books and starting and leading a nationally recognized nonprofit helping thousands.

I think of this quote often when I reflect on my career in TV. After my first appearance on the Dr. Phil Show, I asked an agent that was referred to me about doing more work in television. He told me that unless I was a “pretty, young blond or a recognized journalist” I could forget about TV because there were no jobs for lawyers. He was wrong. It seemed impossible to him, until it was done. I have worked for a decade in TV. I have been a host on two syndicated talk shows; a regular on the number one talk show in the country; a paid contributor for one of the top cable news shows; a go-to-expert on a host of daytime and primetime TV shows; and now a host of a web-based information and inspirational talk show, The Special Report. Had I let that agent’s view of the world shape my view, my TV career would have been impossible.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

My nonprofit, Special Needs Network, Inc. jumped into action after the shelter in place order was issued for California and the virus’ spread became national news. We knew that the thousands of families we served in vulnerable communities would be hit hard by COVID-19 given the existing social determinants, such as lack of health insurance and environmental injustices. We knew that it was critical that they had access to accurate and timely information about the pandemic, that they be given hope in the midst of what was going to be a dark time, and that they receive direct services. To meet these objectives, we did the following:

I created and host a web-based informational and inspirational talk show, The Special Report, to provide thousands of our families and the broader community timely and factual COVID-19 news, expert analysis and inspiration. This thrice weekly show’s target audience is people who do not get their news from cable or network television, people who have a deep distrust of mainstream news, and people who followed me on social media and other outlets and who already saw me as a trusted voice and advocate. After the first week of broadcasting live on Facebook, I brought in a team of professional talk show producers, Ianthe Jones and Angela Nichols, to enhance the quality of the production and the stories that we tell. The show has featured national and local voices from Congress members, national civil and social justice leaders, mental and public health experts, actors and celebrities, educators, frontline healthcare and essential workers and everyday people who have been impacted by the virus. Some of our guests have been actors Harry Lennix, Kym Whitley, Luenell and Lonnie Chavez; Congresswoman Nanette Barragán and Congressmembers Jimmy Gomez and Eric Swalwell; sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson; former Democratic Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer; AMA President Dr. Patrice Harris; and couples and family therapist Dr. Ish Major. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the show has become a critical source for information, resources and hope for hundreds of thousands of viewers in just two short months. The show also broadcasts on YouTube and we are looking for other distribution channels as the audience and demand continue to grow.

In addition to hosting the show, I have written several op-ed articles including one for USA Today addressing issues of the impact of the virus on underserved communities, small nonprofits and small and minority businesses.

SNN has developed a plethora of direct service programs including a 24-hour hotline; telehealth ABA and mental health services; a food pantry; online advocacy training courses for parents; interactive online recreational and educational programs for kids and parents; and cash card giveaways to families who have lost their jobs.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

To be willing to put the needs of others before your own even when its uncomfortable or inconvenient to do so.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Selflessness — I think of my Godmother as a hero because she took on the co-parenting role of raising me and my brothers even though it meant taking on extra jobs at night. She also worked pass her retirement age in order to help defray some of my college expenses.
  2. Courage — I think of my grandmother as a hero as she was in a wheelchair but took on the responsibility of raising her grandchildren.
  3. Tenacity — I think of the mothers who raise special needs kids and who fight for services for them. These mothers are told “no” over and over again, but they don’t give up the fight for services or justice for their children.
  4. Unmovable — I think of the mothers of African American boys who have been shot by police as heroes because their children are often vilified in the media, but the mothers are unmoved by the bombardment of racially motivated attacks.
  5. Passionate — I think of the parents who are fighting for gun control legislation after losing a child to senseless gun violence.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I don’t think people wake up one day and say today, I am going to be a hero. I think heroes are made by circumstances. I believe more heroes had a life-changing experience that propelled them into action. For some it may have been a loss of a child to gun violence that made them give up everything to fight for gun legislation; or maybe a wife that loses a husband to the scourge of cancer that decides to quit her job and become a tireless advocate for cancer patients.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

The catalyst for me was my son’s Marty’s diagnosis with autism. That was a life-changing event for me. After his diagnosis, I couldn’t say the word autism without weeping. I was depressed for months. After a while, I realized that my son needed me to jump into action. He taught me so much about myself and my capacity to give, to be empathetic and to serve. I met so many families who had so fewer resources than my family that it compelled me to want to help others. My way of helping was at first through providing legal advice through my law firm. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to do more to help families. Thus, I started a nonprofit where I could scale up services and reach millions through my TV platform and social media presence. Special Needs Network is now one of the country’s premier autism and social justice organizations. We have served tens of thousands of families; raised tens of millions of dollars for autism; and made the issue of serving underserved families with disabilities a national issue. In the Fall of this year, we will open the first-ever integrated autism and medical center in the heart of one of LA’s poorest neighborhoods to provide thousands of kids and families with ABA therapy, free legal assistance, social and job skills training, mental health support, and early intervention and after school programs for underserved kids.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

Mothers of kids with special needs; parents who have lost their children to senseless gun violence; young people who are standing up to bullies; families in poor communities who despite all of the barriers and environmental injustices they face, are still thriving.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

The severe impact on poor and working-class families. These families were already struggling financially and are often forgotten. I worried about the emotional and financial toll the pandemic will take on them and their ability to rebound.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

I am hopeful about a new administration that reflects the diversity of this country. I am looking forward to a new administration next year that has more minorities and women in leadership positions who are working to restore the country by following science and data and by providing a response to the pandemic that is culturally sensitive and empathetic.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

I am inspired by the small acts of kindness by everyday people. On my show, The Special Report, every Friday we highlight positive stories and individuals engaged in acts of kindness to ease the pain of the pandemic. I have interviewed college students in New York who started a grocery delivery service for senior citizens; a mother and son who buy grocery for healthcare workers; and a 7-year-old who started a food pantry and serves food to the nursing home where his grandmother lives.

The conduct that I find the most disappointing are the protesters that have shown up at state houses in Michigan with military assault weapons and signs with racial epithets. Some of the protesters blocked roadways preventing essential workers from getting to work. Their protests were nothing more than political rallies aimed to discredit the Democratic governor. I also was disappointed about how little regard the protesters had for the rising number of coronavirus cases and deaths impacting African Americans, older Americans and other vulnerable populations. As a civil rights lawyer, I believe in the right to protest. But I don’t believe in the right to harm others with your conduct. Those protesters who were not socially distancing or wearing masks were subjecting themselves to the virus and created the possibility to return to their communities as super spreaders. This was disappointing to me.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

It definitely has caused me to appreciate the many blessings that I have. I am wide-eyed about the fact that graduating from Harvard Law School, owning my own law firm and being a recognized media personality gives me access and advantages far different than anything I could have imagined growing up in a housing project. But being able to work from home is a luxury that I took for granted before the pandemic. I have gained a profound appreciation for being able to work from home and a new level of respect for essential workers who have no choice about working from home. I have always advocated for underserved populations, working class people and the voiceless, this pandemic has caused me to redouble my efforts and commitment to my advocacy work.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

A living wage of at least 22.00 dollars an hour for all working Americans. This pandemic has shined a bright light on so many gross inequities in our society. They are not new, but the pandemic gives us an opportunity to fix many of them including providing universal health insurance that covers mental health care, a living wage, universal daycare, hi-speed internet and access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would tell them that there is no greater honor than to serve. This may sound like an empty cliché but serving others has given me more gratification than just about anything I have accomplished other than becoming a mother.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It would be a movement to end poverty. The passage of three stimulus bills that have pumped trillions of dollars into our economy including billions for big businesses and corporations reveal that the federal government has the ability, even though it lacks the will, to end poverty in this country.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would like to have lunch with Hillary Clinton. I think she is one of the smartest women in the modern era. I had a chance to meet her a couple of times during the 2016 campaign, but I wasn’t able to pick her brain the way I would like to do. I would love to ask her about the decision to run for the Senate, what was it like to be under constant attack for years by the GOP and others, how she has rebounded from her two presidential campaigns, and generally, what the next generation of female leaders can do to lead with integrity and boldness given the barrage of vitriol that permeates our public discourse.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on all social platforms @arevamartin.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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