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Lunch with Mimi: With determination and confidence, Centrice Martin has overcome adversity to find success

on February 28, 2020 3:24 PM

Town&Gown founder Mimi Barash Coppersmith first interviewed Centrice Martin more than 10 years ago after she received the 2009 Penn State Outstanding Adult Student award while earning a degree in agribusiness management. At that time, Martin had hopes to continue her education and pursue a graduate degree at Penn State. 

Martin was raised by a single mother and had a rough childhood. Growing up in Texas, she attended six different school districts before moving with her mother to central Pennsylvania, where she initially went to the Indian Valley School District. Then she attended Penns Valley School District before moving to Bellefonte Area High School, where she graduated in 2002. At age 18, she had daughter Mavalynn. As a single mother herself, she struggled to make ends meet, but through all her hardships, she learned to self-reflect and persevere, recognizing the need to better herself through hard work and education. 

In 2011, she earned her master of education degree in applied youth, family, and community education from Penn State. Now, Martin is happily married, a mother of four children ages 15 months to 17 years. She has worked as the assistant to the manager of Ferguson Township since April 2018. In addition to assisting the township manager in overseeing the activities of the municipality, Martin directs the township’s community engagement and communication efforts as well as the administrative work, such as processing incoming right-to-know requests.

Active in the community, she serves on the Centre Women’s Leadership Coalition, the Empowering Women in Leadership Conference Committee, the Task Force for Mental Health Crisis Services, and the board of directors for Discovery Space. 

Martin recently sat down again with Barash Coppersmith at Spats at the Grill to reflect on her childhood, how she was able to overcome many adversities, and her continued efforts to better herself personally and professionally. 

Mimi: You were a remarkable young woman 10 years ago, and you're a remarkable woman 10 years later. You and I both have experienced unusual things in our lives. I've had a little longer time to experience mine. You've suffered losses, discrimination, depression, confusion, and a need to self-improve because there wasn't anybody who was going to do it for you. What would you identify as the dominant piece of your personality that gave you the motivation to do that? 

Centrice: I would say it's my ability to self-reflect. It's a dominating trait. It serves me well and it sometimes is also kind of my kryptonite. It's what also brings vulnerability and weakness.

Mimi: But when you get that weakness, what's the spirit, the lift onto the path to success? I'm asking you because I want to know, too.

Centrice: I've allowed myself over the years to feel the sadness and to say that this is not OK. And go through those minutes, moments, or hours, and sometimes days, where I just have to accept that this is my truth, my reality, and decide if I'm going to just swallow it, bury it, or if I'm going to respond and address it. And then, after giving myself that deliberate time to think, reflect, and make a determination as to what I will do next, I move on with so much more confidence knowing that I've made the right decision because I've taken time to think about it. It mattered to me, and whatever I do next, it has to be important. It has to be the next best thing.

Mimi: It is tough to forget your mistakes, to throw them off, live in the present, and move on. How did you do that?

Centrice: You don't forget your mistakes, not if you’re committed to ongoing self-reflection. In fact, some of my most painful mistakes stay with me today. It is almost what motivates me, to say you've got to reflect, to keep thinking about what you could have done differently, what you could have done better, how you can improve it for the next time so you don't make those mistakes again, but not to deny them either. That's the balance.

Mimi: It’s a juggling act.

Centrice: It is. I face it in parenting. I face it in my decisions and actions at work. I face it in my personal life. But it's a truth that I have to carry with me. It's part of what makes me who I am today. What fills my heart with happiness is my children. To watch my children have a better life than I ever did, to give them opportunities, perspectives, and a life filled with unconditional love, and being able to talk through things with them like I had never experienced before that makes me the happiest.

Mimi: And you don't seem to be defiant. You seem to have learned how to talk about the things that have interfered with you having a “normal” life, and you've dealt with it, and you've patterned a life of being pretty assertive too. How do you manage it?

Centrice: I knew in the beginning, even in my teen years before I got pregnant with my oldest child, that being defiant could only take me so far if I wanted any type of a different life than how I grew up in childhood. Meaning, I didn't have a safety net. I had a single mom who had her weaknesses, vulnerabilities, insecurities, and depression that she faced.  

Mimi: Did she grow up in the same kind of home?

Centrice: Her father died when she was about 6. She's the youngest of three sisters. And when her father died, her mother remarried three times. There was a great deal of neglect and abuse that she experienced too. So, I was born into what they call generational trauma. My mother’s coping mechanisms were not always good for proper parenting. I know she loved my sister and me. I know that she gave it her best, but that wasn't always conducive to positive parenting and proper development. 

I didn't have a safety net. Even during my most rebellious years, I knew that I needed to somewhat keep myself in a good area, that if I crossed the line and got arrested or did something absolutely dangerous to any type of a good life, there was likely no coming out of that. So, defiance wasn't an option for me. 

Mimi: What was your father like?

Centrice: I never met my father until about four years ago. I traveled to Texas during a 15-month period that I stepped out of the workforce to get some trauma treatment. I decided I would like to meet my father, so I traveled with my children to Texas to meet him for the first time. I learned he has substance-abuse issues. So, I understood a bit more as to why my mother raised her two kids as a single parent and thus why I did not grow up with my father in the home. In fact, I grew up most of my life never knowing him.

Mimi: How do you feel about him now?

Centrice: I spent four or five days in Texas. I met up with him for about one day; his priority seemed a little lost. He's got three other children who do live in Texas near him. He doesn't see them very often. Again, he struggles with substance abuse. I did get a chance to meet his sister, who is very similar to me in that she's got four children who she has raised successfully and independently; she has her master's degree. I really enjoyed my time visiting Austin, Texas, getting to know her, and understanding the adversity that she overcame. It was an inspiration for me.

Mimi: Did you ever think of starting a group where you get together and share how you recovered from tough beginnings?

Centrice: Absolutely. I would like to think that in the future I'll have a little bit more time, as my children get older and I settle more into my career. I would like to have a group established and possibly even a fund of some kind that really empowers and motivates people, particularly women who have social and economic disadvantages, and see themselves as being stuck, or not really someone who could go to college. I would like to see more people who may be embarrassed or ashamed of their past because of the trauma they endured in their childhood, such as what I experienced. 

They're too afraid to talk about it and too worried about how it might mark them, or it's really just yielded this life of self-destruction that they're not sure how or where to begin for a new beginning. I absolutely have plans to pursue such efforts. Right now, however, I have to make sure that my children are on a path of success before I can put such plans into action.

Mimi: You've managed to get over those hurdles that could have put you back where you began. I have always said from my own life experiences that out of every horror comes an opportunity. Do you feel that way?

Centrice: I do, absolutely; if you take time to really evaluate your circumstance or your situation, even if it's just an opportunity to identify what you could improve on as a person. 

Mimi: But there's a particular fear connected with the disorder with children. On the one hand, you love them dearly, but on the other hand, you want to be reasonable. Sometimes you're floating out there. There were mistakes I made by just thinking issues would go away, and that's common to all people. If we turn our heads away from the problem, we create more problems. I sense you've recognized some of that behavior. And because you recognize it, you are now able to be more direct about what you expect as a parent. How does that work at your house?

Centrice: That's a really good question, and it does not have an easy, concise response. I will say that when I was here in my graduate program, I was introduced to a whole lot of philosophies, controversial topics, as it relates to education, youth development, cognition, parenting, and intentional parenting. I realized these expectations that I had of my children that they were going to be patient, empathetic, and want to come home and do their schoolwork. I would preach it, and I would expect it.

But did I actually demonstrate it? Was I demonstrating to my children what it looks like to be patient, and what an empathetic conversation looks like? For example, if my kid fell, sometimes it was, “Come on, get up, we're in a hurry.” And I accepted that I wasn't really demonstrating empathetic responses even when my kid fell, for example. I wasn't being empathetic and saying, “Are you OK? Did that hurt? Do you need a hug?” I didn't stop and ask my child. I wasn't setting an example for them of what I expected when they are in their own circles.

Therefore, when they accidentally tripped a kid at school and kept walking, I got a call from a teacher who said, “You know, your daughter tripped this kid and just kept walking like she didn't care. We're worried that maybe she's not very kind to her peers.” 

I started assessing my response to such situations. I have two options. One, I can say, “Why did you trip your friend? Why didn't you stop and ask if they were OK?” Just really start to grow my child with this heightened concern that maybe my child was not having appropriate peer interactions. Or, I could accept that when my kid trips at home, I'm so quick to try to get somewhere that I don't demonstrate [empathy] myself, especially during those years as a single parent in college.

Graduate school really challenged me to adopt a transformational new perspective, a new frame of reference and challenge myself to reflect and think, “Am I demonstrating the parenting practices that I need to be demonstrating to give my children the opportunity to truly meet the expectation that I have with them?”

This was part of a transformational change that took place in my late 20s. 

Mimi: What's your current flaw, if you have any? 

Centrice: To some extent, I think it really ties into one of my better strengths. While I am a self-reflective machine to always try to figure out how I may improve, be a better person, it also can become a flaw because I can get lost in the moment; essentially, I become too hard on myself. When I become too hard on myself, it's almost as if I'm inviting stress. I'm inviting unwanted, unproductive thoughts. So, a flaw of mine is sometimes getting lost in my thoughts with this self-reflection process that I embrace, and not being present. I think this will forever be a practice that I have to work on, and I am OK with that.

Mimi: What's the dream you're shooting for now? What do you see as the next phase of you?

Centrice: Living freely. Embracing who I am and everything that I've come to be. Letting go of the shame, guilt, and all the things that don't allow me just to be present with my children.

Mimi: Letting go and moving on, but never forget. That's probably everyone's challenge in their life; most people don't share what it is.

Centrice: And I'd also say my next step is helping [my children] unpack some of the challenges kids today are faced with. There's so much going on at school, socially and academically. 

Mimi: Do you talk about it much at home?

Centrice: It's becoming more of a conversation that we're having, an intentional conversation and effort on my end. It’s not easy when kids today are showered with so many resources. They kind of have these expectations. We talked earlier about self-reflection. I, being a biracial woman, had my own issues and stresses for that. Most of my younger years, I never really explored what a person of color meant to me. My mom is white, and my dad is black. I grew up without my father in the home. So, I was raised by this white woman who clearly had no problem with anyone with a different cultural, racial, or ethnic background. But she wasn't necessarily well-educated in African culture or celebrations. 

I had an experience in graduate school, where my professor had given me an assignment to prepare these packets for Kwanzaa to distribute among all of the agricultural extension agencies within the 67 counties in Pennsylvania. And so, I did my best effort. I put a few activities that celebrated Kwanzaa in these packets. And then, at the end of the semester, I received an evaluation; I scored a two instead of a four. I received four on all other evaluations.

I scheduled an appointment with this professor, and I asked her to help me understand how I could improve to get higher than a two. She said the reason for the two was that when I put together these packets, she thought my performance and preparation did not truly reflect what she thought I could perform. I took a minute, and at that moment, I'll never forget feeling a little embarrassed, a little ashamed, for what I had not previously brought to her. I had not told her that while I certainly have brown skin and I am a person of color, I knew very little about African cultural celebrations. I did not know much about Kwanzaa with the exception of what I learned on Google.

I mustered the courage to tell her that, and I apologized to her. Initially when given the assignment, I could have said, “I don't know anything about Kwanzaa. Can you please enlighten me?” But, in hindsight, I didn't because I was embarrassed. Who really wants to talk about all of their deficiencies and insecurities and things that they don't know?

Mimi: But you learned from that instance.

Centrice: But I learned, and she reevaluated me after understanding that she also made an assumption. It was moments like that where I look back and think that's where I started to carry some confidence and learned that I had a voice, and I needed to use it. I really needed to start asking questions and take a stand for myself, advocate for myself, and understand that it's OK not to know. It's OK not to fit in everybody's box, and it's OK to express something that was a little controversial because that was a means to an end for a better start for me. 

I intentionally integrate such conversations with my children when appropriate. I want my children to be empowered to ask questions and not feel small in this world. And so, I use my voice to advocate and take a stand for them until they can carry their own confidence.

Mimi: Thank you for taking the time to be so authentic and direct. I respect it; I think our readers will appreciate it. God bless you.

Centrice: Thank you. 

Caption

Darren Andrew Weimert

Centrice Martin (right) chats with Town&Gown founder Mimi Barash Coppersmith at Spats at the Grill.

 

 

Lunch with Mimi

 

Committed to Self-Reflection

 

With determination and confidence, Centrice Martin has overcome adversity to find success personally and professionally

 

Town&Gown founder Mimi Barash Coppersmith first interviewed Centrice Martin more than 10 years ago after she received the 2009 Penn State Outstanding Adult Student award while earning a degree in agribusiness management. At that time, Martin had hopes to continue her education and pursue a graduate degree at Penn State.  

Martin was raised by a single mother and had a rough childhood. Growing up in Texas, she attended six different school districts before moving with her mother to central Pennsylvania, where she initially went to the Indian Valley School District. Then she attended Penns Valley School District before moving to Bellefonte Area High School, where she graduated in 2002. At age 187, she had daughter Mavalynn. As a single mother herself, she struggled to make ends meet, but through all her hardships, she learned to self-reflect and persevere, recognizing the need to better herself through hard work and education.

In 2011, she earned her master of education degree in applied youth, family, and community education from Penn State. Now, Martin is happily married, a mother of four children ages 15 months to 17 years. She has worked as the assistant to the manager of Ferguson Township since April 2018. In addition to assisting the township manager in overseeing the activities of the municipality, Martin directs the township’s community engagement and communication efforts as well as the administrative work, such as processing incoming right-to-know requests.

Active in the community, she serves on the Centre Women’s Leadership Coalition, the Empowering Women in Leadership Conference Committee, the Task Force for Mental Health Crisis Services, and the board of directors for Discovery Space.

Martin recently sat down again with Barash Coppersmith at Spats at the Grill to reflect on her childhood, how she was able to overcome many adversities, and her continued efforts to better herself personally and professionally.

Mimi: You were a remarkable young woman 10 years ago, and you're a remarkable woman 10 years later. You and I both have experienced unusual things in our lives. I've had a little longer time to experience mine. You've suffered losses, discrimination, depression, confusion, and a need to self-improve because there wasn't anybody who was going to do it for you. What would you identify as the dominant piece of your personality that gave you the motivation to do that?

Centrice: I would say it's my ability to self-reflect. It's a dominating trait. It serves me well and it sometimes is also kind of my kryptonite. It's what also brings vulnerability and weakness.

Mimi: But when you get that weakness, what's the spirit, the lift onto the path to success? I'm asking you because I want to know, too.

Centrice: I've allowed myself over the years to feel the sadness and to say that this is not OK. And go through those minutes, moments, or hours, and sometimes days, where I just have to accept that this is my truth, my reality, and decide if I'm going to just swallow it, bury it, or if I'm going to respond and address it. And then, after giving myself that deliberate time to think, reflect, and make a determination as to what I will do next, I move on with so much more confidence knowing that I've made the right decision because I've taken time to think about it. It mattered to me, and whatever I do next, it has to be important. It has to be the next best thing.

Mimi: It is tough to forget your mistakes, to throw them off, live in the present, and move on. How did you do that?

Centrice: You don't forget your mistakes, not if youre committed to ongoing self-reflection. In fact, some of my most painful mistakes stay with me today. It is almost what motivates me, to say you've got to reflect, to keep thinking about what you could have done differently, what you could have done better, how you can improve it for the next time so you don't make those mistakes again, but not to deny them either. That's the balance.

Mimi: It’s a juggling act.

Centrice: It is. I face it in parenting. I face it in my decisions and actions at work. I face it in my personal life. But it's a truth that I have to carry with me. It's part of what makes me who I am today. What fills my heart with happiness is my children. To watch my children have a better life than I ever did, to give them opportunities, perspectives, and a life filled with unconditional love, and being able to talk through things with them like I had never experienced before that makes me the happiest.

Mimi: And you don't seem to be defiant. You seem to have learned how to talk about the things that have interfered with you having a normal life, and you've dealt with it, and you've patterned a life of being pretty assertive too. How do you manage it?

Centrice: I knew in the beginning, even in my teen years before I got pregnant with my oldest child, that being defiant could only take me so far if I wanted any type of a different life than how I grew up in childhood. Meaning, I didn't have a safety net. I had a single mom who had her weaknesses, vulnerabilities, insecurities, and depression that she faced.  

Mimi: Did she grow up in the same kind of home?

Centrice: Her father died when she was about 6. She's the youngest of three sisters. And when her father died, her mother remarried three times. There was a great deal of neglect and abuse that she experienced too. So, I was born into what they call generational trauma. My mother’s coping mechanisms were not always good for proper parenting. I know she loved my sister and me. I know that she gave it her best, but that wasn't always conducive to positive parenting and proper development.

I didn't have a safety net. Even during my most rebellious years, I knew that I needed to somewhat keep myself in a good area, that if I crossed the line and got arrested or did something absolutely dangerous to any type of a good life, there was likely no coming out of that. So, defiance wasn't an option for me.

Mimi: What was your father like?

Centrice: I never met my father until about four years ago. I traveled to Texas during a 15-month period that I took off stepped out of the workforcework to get some trauma treatment. I decided I would like to meet my father, so I traveled with my children to Texas to meet him for the first time. HeI learned he has substance-abuse issues. So, I understood a bit more as to why my mother raised her two kids as a single parent dand thus why I did not grow up with my father in the home. In fact, I grew up most of my life never knowing him.

Mimi: How do you feel about him now?

Centrice: I spent four or five days in Texas. I met up with him for about one day; his priority seemed a little lost. He's got three other children who do live in Texas near him. He doesn't see them very often. Again, he struggles with substance abuse. I did get a chance to meet his sister, who is very similar to me in that she's got four children who she has raised successfully and independently; she has her master's degree. I really enjoyed my time visiting Austin, Texas, getting to know her, and understanding the adversity that she overcame. It was an inspiration for me.

Mimi: Did you ever think of starting a group where you get together and share how you recovered from tough beginnings?

Centrice: Absolutely. I would like to think that in the future I'll have a little bit more time, as my children get older and I settle more into my career. I would like to have a group established and possibly even a fund of some kind that really empowers and motivates people, particularly women who have social and economic disadvantages, and see themselves as being stuck, or not really someone who could go to college. I would like to see more people who may be embarrassed or ashamed of their past because of the trauma they endured in their childhood, such as what I

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