The Respect Institute | President & Co-Founder | San Jose CA
My first memory in life is of my mom holding me up as a human shield to get my dad to stop beating her. I was just 2-years-old. We ended up in that moment because my parents were never valued and so they didn’t value themselves—instead they were abused and abusive. They got caught in a cycle of disrespect. And on most days, they lacked empathy for themselves and others. By the time my father was 19, he was drug addict in federal prison. By the time she was 16, my mother was pregnant and had dropped out of high school. And by the time I was a teenager, I was destined toward a similar fate. What my parents needed—what I needed—was more respect. And true respect starts on the inside. I took a detour from destruction toward my destiny when I made this “respect” connection. Today our mission at The Respect Institute is to make respect status quo so youth can reach their potential, thrive in safe schools and communities, and ultimately spread respect as leaders of social change.
My official bio: I’m Co-Founder and President of The Respect Institute. In 2011 alone, we directly reached 5,600 youth and their influencers with our tools. I’m also an award-winning author, coach and web publisher who in the past decade has reached millions of youth, families and communities through programs I created, such as The Respect Rally, my blog RespectRx.com and best-selling book, “RESPECT” (Free Spirit Publishing, 2005), which has won both IPPY and iParenting awards.
Throughout my tumultuous youth in San Jose, Calif., I dealt with many of the same issues youth face today, from self-doubt and negative body image to risky choices, bullying, potential high-school dropout and confusion about my multi-racial identity (I’m of Mexican, Filipino, Portuguese, French and Irish descent). My hard-working family also struggled for respect amid substance abuse, incarceration, violence, poverty and racism. Like many, I fought to find respect without a compass or clue—then discovered it was within all along. Today that is my message to people everywhere: Respect is always within reach because true respect starts on the inside.
Our work has been featured on CNN, ABC, Fox, National Public Radio, MSNBC and in USA Today, CosmoGIRL!, Teen People, Teen Vogue, Mothering, Glamour, The Seattle Times, The San Jose Mercury News and numerous other media. I’ve also been featured as a role model in the books “The Quarterlifer’s Companion,” and “Cool Women, Hot Jobs.” Having been in online media since 1995, I formerly was Editorial Director of the groundbreaking and Webby-nominated online and radio network ChickClick. Additionally, my articles have been published by The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Associated Press, The Sacramento Bee, CBS News.com and others.
I’ve led programs for thousands of youth, youth influencers and organizations across the country coaching them to use The Respect Basics to end cycles of disrespect and thrive. We use an innovative partner model, co-actively leveraging other youth developer's powerful platforms to distribute our respect-building tools and training.
We've partnered with organizations such as Girls Inc., the YMCA, YPO-WPO, Omega Institute Teen Camp, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Girl Scouts of the USA, the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, Girls For A Change, Girls Rock! Camp, the state women’s conferences, Junior League, Sidwell Friends Schools, KIPP and Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation. Additionally, I’ve led a special program for teens attending the Democratic National Convention in 2008 and was invited to the White House in 2010 based on my work in domestic violence prevention and youth development. I did my first TEDx Talk in 2011.
I have a B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State University and I’m a certified co-active coach (CPCC) through the renowned Coaches Training Institute as well as a graduate of its Leadership Program. I live in New York City with my husband, former pro athlete and Respect Rally co-leader Jeremy Cleland, and our 2-year-old son Tru.