Courtney Macavinta

Founder and CEO of the Respect Institute

My name is Courtney. I am the CEO and co-founder of the Respect Institute, a nonprofit based in Silicon Valley and that works around the country and the globe. We give adults and youth influencers who are working with vulnerable youth the tools to nurture self-respect in youth, so they can achieve bigger outcomes. 

"When I was growing up, I knew that my family was a bit different. But it also felt normal. I thought normal to have folks addicted to drugs/alcohol, to not have meals. To witness domestic violence, have parents arrested. I saw a range of different experiences - because I feel comfortable saying I have white privilege, but had a father who is a brown man. I saw how the world interacted with him, with a lot of racism.  I’m growing up in a family where my older brothers did not graduate high school, but my mom was rising the ranks in Silicon Valley. My dad did not go back to prison, he started to have economic mobility, but that does not heal the trauma."


"My first memory in life is my mom holding me up like human shield to get my dad to stop beating her. And I was practicing telling this story in mirror, for an event. And I raised by arm and looked at it - my own arm - and I had all these negative thoughts. I need to work out more. What are they going to think of me? But, because I had those tools of respect, I could reframe this pretty rapidly. My purpose is to help. Someone always comes up to me after when they tell that story. What I look like doesn’t matter. I was able to reframe that - what is my purpose, I am a unique contributor to a greater whole. Someone to listen to, etc. That gives you a mission and focus on the right thing."


"Respect is knowing that I am unique contributor to the greater whole. You can know that despite your circumstances - you can be low-income, in jail, and still know you are unique contributor. I do have a purpose, I matter."


"Self-esteem is opinion of self - it comes from outside content, magazines, etc. Self-respect is different - it is "I am a unique contributor to greater whole." It is influenced by actions you take to show yourself that you matter. From that space, you have more capacity to have respect for others. That’s the distinction."


"What I see in all of us - we have a different kind of resilience. There's a lot of research targeted at affluent youth - that they need grit, gumption, etc. I feel like ACErs and vulnerable youth wrote that book. If you’re first in your family to go to college, to speak English, or get a job, there are lots of assets built into that. You can get stuff done, find resources, despite resources. You know how to survive - actually reading rooms, reading people, we can do that. We’re creative, hardworking - we'll work 2-3 jobs to put ourselves through school. We learned from experiences and intuitive, not just books."


"I think there are kids in juvie who could have creativity to solve climate change, but they are not at the table. They have been pipelined off the grid. Those are true entrepreneurs, true innovators. The truth is, I see vulnerable youth and they’re upstarts, they're already entrepreneurial, they know how to be scrappy. Those are assets in any company."