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Judith Martinez, seated, wearing a shirt that says Strong Female Lead

Judith Martinez, seated, wearing a shirt that says Strong Female Lead

What Would You Do If You Were 1% More Courageous?

Judith Martinez ’14 and her nonprofit InHerShoes encourage young women to follow their passions. This month, Serena Williams picked Martinez for a $100,000 Stuart Weitzman & Vital Voices Award to help her follow hers.

Judith Martinez ’14 and her nonprofit InHerShoes encourage young women to follow their passions. This month, Serena Williams picked Martinez for a $100,000 Stuart Weitzman & Vital Voices Award to help her follow hers. 

Judith Martinez ’14 was working at home in her pajamas when she received some life-changing news.

Like so many Americans, Martinez has been sheltering in place with family this year to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this month, while sitting on the couch with her mom, she opened an email from renowned shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. The news? She and her nonprofit InHerShoes had been selected by tennis great and women’s advocate Serena Williams and Stuart Weitzman as the latest recipient for the $100,000 Vital Voices grant.

Martinez established the InHerShoes Movement in 2014. The nonprofit’s team connects with girls and women around the country hosting workshops and events that mobilize young women to tap into their passions, asking them, “What would you do if you were 1% more courageous?”

In addition to the grant money, Martinez will receive mentorship as part of the award, participating in discussions and working with both the Stuart Weitzman and Vital Voices teams as part of a continued partnership. Martinez recently sat down with us to talk about the award.

Take us back to the moment you opened that email and read about your award. What was your reaction?

I was totally shocked. It was just my mom and I when I found out. I was reading the email to myself and I started crying. She asked me what was wrong and, as I read it out loud, it was just a huge wave of emotion. InHerShoes started as a Kickstarter campaign. So it’s still surreal to have gotten to this point. There’s still this disbelief of, “Wow! You mean people know about us?” 

I’ve said this before, but this really doesn't feel like an award for me. As a first-generation Filipina-American, it really feels more like a huge affirmation to the families and parents who send their kids to America for more opportunity. Yes, my name was on the email, but this was just as much my mom and my grandmother’s victories.

So much of what InHerShoes does involves getting out and talking to people through grassroots events and workshops. How has your group adapted during the pandemic?

We had to learn what the word “pivot” even means in this day and age. That’s such a buzzword that gets thrown around, but there was nothing like 2020 to redefine reality.

For many businesses, they just shifted online, but what happens when your students don’t even have internet access, let alone the equipment? So it impacted our approach and we had to get creative. It also became a call to action for us to figure out how we can make systemic change. Not just helping individual students—which has been so great and rewarding—but we were also called on to be more courageous around challenging the infrastructures we were faced with and operating within. Not just empower and mobilize young women, but teaching the teachers and instructors who are grappling with their own lives at this moment, too.

In the past five years you’ve held live events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Austin, Seattle and in Bali—so all over. How challenging was it to move your programming and events to the virtual world?

It’s definitely been an adjustment and a challenge, but I would say we’ve been able to do even more this year despite it. Like everybody else, we had to quickly learn about the world of Zoom and Google Meet and Twitch and Instagram Live—you name it. We were trying to meet our audience where they were. The good news is, we found out a lot of our students preferred to learn through Instagram Live versus Zoom, where they are spending their days for school. Zoom fatigue was very real. We’ve done programming and launched a few new series as well, focusing on allyship, intersectionality, and coalition-building.

How will the grant and mentorship from this award change the future of InHerShoes?

This new opportunity makes us excited for scale and sustainability. With these resources, I’m really excited to see how we can continue to scale our impact and identify possible collaborators that align with our mission to catalyze courage. Now more than ever we’re asking ourselves, “what does that look like?” As the world is learning and working more online, what does the future of school and the workplace look like “post Covid?”

Before we won this award, we wanted to increase our chapters and our engagement with boots on the ground, but this past year had us re-evaluate. We’re excited to add sustainability to the organization, investing in the infrastructure we're going to need to support that level of scale. This is all very exciting but also frankly terrifying. The thing about running an organization dedicated to being courageous is that I feel like I’m constantly being held to account. If I’m asking others to be courageous, I have to be courageous, too.

Teaching people to be more courageous is a great goal, but I imagine it would be difficult. How do you pull that off?

Being willing to fumble and get it wrong and building a community that celebrates the growing pains of growth. One of my favorite examples of this from the past year was our Catalyze Allyship series. One thing at the heart of InHerShoes, that goes hand in hand with being 1% more courageous, is having a vulnerable and authentic conversation. With yourself, with others, and with the community around you. We had Diversity Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging practitioners, activists, and law enforcement all come to the table and discuss one thing: courage and its intersection with allyship. It was an approach of having an open, safe space to talk about a polarizing topic in the midst of an already polarizing time, while inviting an intergenerational dialogue. Through their storytelling and personal and professional experiences, we were able to have an incredibly successful program through the lens of calling people in and flexing what we call our “courage muscles.”

When I started InHerShoes, I never intended for it to be this movement to address any woman or any girl at any age of their life, but it's bloomed into that. I think that became apparent this past year. Who doesn't need courage during this time?