What’s hot, cold and giving girls a chance to excel in STEM? ComEd’s 6th Annual Icebox Derby, which took place in Chicago on Saturday. The sun was high over the city’s Daley Plaza, but so, too, was the momentum, as 30 girls on six teams completed their race to create the best and fastest recycled refrigerator-based, solar-powered vehicle.
Out of six color-coded teams, Orange Flare took the win on Saturday, bringing glory to the team of 14-to-18-year-olds, who were brought together from neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Also on-site was a very special guest, Marsai Martin, star of Black-ish and the recent film Little—where she made history by being the youngest in Hollywood history to pitch and executive produce. As a trailblazer in her chosen field, Martin was on hand to lend support and encouragement to other girls her age trying to blaze paths of their own.
“We just don’t have enough of a pipeline of young women going into science, technology, and engineering. So what we’re trying to do is capture them early and inspire them with these cool projects and then they’re going to be able to race around today,” CEO of ComEd Joe Dominguez told Chicago’s ABC-7.
“What you ladies are doing here today is getting us closer to that dream,” Martin said in her remarks at the podium [h/t ABC-7]. “That’s why I’m extremely honored to be celebrating with all of you today.”
Given her already impressive resumé—and the fact that she has literally been growing up before our eyes every week on Black-ish—it’s sometimes easy to forget Martin is only 14 herself. Meeting the diminutive star in person on Saturday, sporting long, segmented ponytails with her sundress and colorful sneakers, it was hard not to be even more in awe of her accomplishments; success she’s more than willing to share with other girls her age.
“What got me involved [in the Icebox Derby], actually, was that I’m always down for female empowerment in any form,” Martin told The Glow Up. “And to be involved in such an amazing cause—these girls are actually creating things that a lot of people don’t really know how to create, and are really talented, but sometimes underrated. So, I’m here to make it ‘rated,’ if you know what I mean.”
Martin also has Chicago roots, as her father hails from what we locals fondly call “Chicagoland.” “I always feel like I’m at home here,” she smiled, continuing, “so, it’s good to be home, and to also be here supporting a very powerful group of ladies.”
As many high-powered ladies know, the quest for perfection can also become our biggest pitfall. Even at 14, Martin is aware that success shouldn’t come at the expense of sanity.
“I want [my success] to represent not just what I’m doing, but that I can open doors for other people, too, and just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do,” she said. “And also, I want to show my authentic self in anything that I create—in film, in TV—that’s the thing that I always want to point out every time I create something so that other people know that literally no one’s perfect. Like, no one in this world is [living] in perfection, so it doesn’t mean that you have to be this way to get to this point.”
If Martin’s already a role model before her sweet sixteen, she’s had an admirable list of de facto mentors to guide her way. Beyoncé, Rihanna, Issa Rae, and Regina Hall are all women she lists as her role models, saying, without the slightest hint of a humblebrag, “all of them are people that I’ve met already, who I can actually understand where they’re coming from, and how they got started in the business—I always wonder about that type of stuff.”
But of course, Martin’s biggest role model is her mother, Carol, who is almost constantly at her daughter’s side. Along with the rest of Martin’s team, Carol is instrumental in ensuring that her daughter has ample time to just be a teenager. Already, she has decompression tactics down that elude most adults (including myself), listing hanging out with friends, swimming and getting plenty of sleep as strategies she uses to avoid being overwhelmed.
While Team Orange Flare may have taken home the trophy, all of the 2019 Icebox Derby participants went home winners, each garnering a $1,500 scholarship, as well as skills and friendships that could last a lifetime. Martin hoped that they took home more confidence, as well.
“I think that their voices speak volumes,” she said. “Because what I’ve learned is that if you speak your mind about anything, someone will listen—something so little can become so big you can’t even imagine.” Martin paused before paraphrasing lyrics from Beyoncé’s latest hit, “Spirit.”
“You’re part of something way bigger, so I feel like that is something everyone should always stand for.”