Teen Empowerment at FamilyWorks

An Interview with Teen Empowerment Activists Gladys & Elsie Martinez – By Launa Lea

What inspired you to run this program at FamilyWorks?

Gladys: I wanted to provide an empowerment opportunity for young women of color, a safe space for them to develop into leaders.

Elsie: I grew up in a very small town that didn’t offer these kinds of programs. It was pretty resource scarce in general. When I heard about the program, a program that empowers young women, I lit up. The kinds of things we talk about, self-esteem issues, what it means to be a girl, I want everyone to have this opportunity.

What do you think the participants are taking away from this experience?

Gladys: To advocate for themselves, to interrupt injustice. We may be inspiring our future president right here!

Elsie: I agree with Gladys. It teaches life skills, things they don’t learn in school. You get to practice saying no, standing up for yourself, really cultivating a belief system within your social framework. That’s so important for youth, but we rarely teach this for some reason. The girls are so close in age, so they are building their own community together. You know that the friends you make in this kind of program are healthy relationships, and that’s something that doesn’t end with the program. It’s really supportive.

 What’s the hardest part of doing this kind of work?

Elsie: The girls all have very different personalities. Breaking down the walls around this teenage expectation that they’re supposed to be perfect all the time, always achieving—it takes time to get through.

What’s the most rewarding?

Elsie: Watching them grow for sure. I’ve seen each of them step into a new confidence. Sometimes they refer back to other lessons and actually call each other out in a really friendly, supportive way, so there’s this value system I’m watching form organically. 

What are some hopes you hold for these young women?

Gladys: That they become leaders and shakers in their community. These are future politicians, teachers, judges and legal advocates. There is no bar too high for them once they realize how powerful they already are.

Elsie: I hope they use what they learn. I hope it continues to help them in life. I don’t want social media to mold their self-esteem. I want them to walk away with their own definition of beauty. They’re all really smart, but societal expectations are always bearing down on us. I recognize how brave it is for them to even show up to something like this. Hopefully, this will inspire them to continue engaging in programs that build healthy friendships and life skills.