Latinas in Motion Founder Speaks at Villanova

Katie Reed, News Columnist

On Friday, Sept. 9, the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership hosted a dinner to welcome their Lorenzini Leadership Ambassadors back to campus for the fall semester. For this event, Elaine Gonzalez Johnson, founder and executive director of the wellness group Latinas in Motion, was invited to speak, as she embodies the McNulty Institute’s values of influence, impact, equity and change agency. 

“I was so honored,” Johnson said in reference to being asked to speak at the event. “Anytime I’m asked to speak, I don’t take that lightly because I think that there is always an opportunity where you can change the mindset of somebody in the room.”

Johnson’s wellness journey began after the birth of her daughter in 2010, when she found that she had gained more than 50 pounds during her pregnancy and was experiencing postpartum depression. She had to adjust to a “new body, new baby and new season of life,” but she was not sure how to do that. She started running, and while working for the school district of Philadelphia at Lincoln High School, a colleague recommended that she sign up for the Broad Street Run, a 10-mile race in Philadelphia, which she did in 2012. 

Through training for this race, Johnson gained more confidence in herself and was feeling healthier. She noted that once race day came, she wanted to teach other women and pass on the feeling.

“In Philly, we have different pockets of runners, and it’s a beautiful thing, but in 2012 there wasn’t a pocket, a circle or a space for Latinas,” Johnson said. “So, after doing tons of research and not finding what I needed, I decided to fill the deficit and start Latinas in Motion.”

Johnson decided to name her organization Latinas in Motion because she did not want to exclusively be a running group. She acknowledged that although she enjoyed running, walking and jogging, that is not the case for everyone, so she wanted any form of movement, like swimming or Zumba, to be included. At the end of the day, Johnson emphasizes that Latinas in Motion is a wellness group to empower Latinas, no matter what form that takes.

“For me, I just wanted to create a space for women of color to not only hold space for each other to say ‘Hey girl, I see you, keep it going, you got this,’ but also so that we can prioritize our own wellness in our lives,” Johnson said. 

Johnson spoke to the difficulties of being an entrepreneur, given the “you eat what you kill” mindset that comes along with it, not knowing where her next dollar might come from and not having a blueprint to follow. For most of her life, Johnson lived below the poverty line and has been working since she was 14, so she is familiar with these pressures, noting that all she knows is survival and working hard.

“The most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur is having to believe that your idea is going to work,” Johnson said. “Even when it feels like the whole world is not set up for you to win, you have to know that your purpose, your gift, your idea was assigned to you. That is what has helped me stay in the game.” 

To help push against any feelings of doubt or uncertainty, Johnson makes sure to affirm herself and the work she is doing each day, adopting the mantra: “can’t nobody do what I do like I do.” She spoke to the importance of these daily affirmations at the event, emphasizing that saying them out loud allows someone’s mind to believe the things that they are saying, as opposed to what others say to try to bring them down. She also created a planner called “Plan, Pray, Slay” to help guide people toward their goals and feeling gratitude.

“If you are not telling yourself who you are and who you want to be, you’re going to believe the lies that society tells you of who you are and who you’re not going to be,” Johnson said. 

In her work with Latinas in Motion and being a speaker, Johnson makes sure to affirm the people that she meets and encourages them to be their true, authentic self no matter where they are. 

“I think the biggest thing I would tell my younger self is your voice is your power,” Johnson said. “When I realized I have a story to tell, when I realized that my story is my power, when I realized that I can walk into a room and I can own the room, when I am walking confidently in who Elaine is, life changed.”

Johnson went on to talk about how one finds true freedom when one doesn’t feel like they have to code switch or act differently depending on who is around them, noting that if being true to themself makes people uncomfortable, that is a problem for them.

“I think we have to address how old were we or when was the moment that we felt, as women, that someone clipped our wings,” Johnson said. “When did we feel that we had to be somebody else?”

At the event, Johnson also poignantly mentioned how she is always trying to break the glass ceiling in everything that she does to make sure there is space for everyone who comes after her. She noted that oftentimes people are hesitant to help others because they fear it will come at a cost to their own success, when really, it’s the opposite.

“When I say I want to break those glass ceilings, it starts with us, but you also have to be unafraid to help the person behind you,” Johnson said. “The same way my mentors are pulling me up, I have to make sure that I’m reaching back to make sure that I’m helping my girls who are right in back of me.”

Johnson also had some powerful advice to share with students at the University.

“For the Villanovans reading this, I would say own your power,” Johnson said. “I need you to understand that purpose is not something you find, purpose is something that is already inside of you, and that is a great starting point for connecting your purpose to whatever it is you want to do.”

In the future, Johnson is hoping to acquire more corporate sponsorships for Latinas in Motion. She is already partnered with Women Win and Puma, which not only helps provide the members of Latina in Motion with sneakers and running apparel, but also makes the organization free for everyone to join. She also wants to implement a Latinas in Motion training curriculum in schools for younger girls to help open the doors for wellness and confidence early.

More broadly, Johnson has personal goals to be an international speaker and transform the lives of one million women, which she is well on her way to attaining.