If you only heard her on the other end of a phone call, you might mistake Abigail Ortiz for one of the many teenagers she works with in her line of social justice community programming.

She’s hyped up, effusive — the teens Ortiz works with aren’t just good, they’re fire — and most of all, she’s passionate about changing the world from the ground up.

The Brookline resident works to eliminate and educate on racial inequality in public health, facilitating trainings and community outreach in her role as director of community health programs and co-director of racial justice and equity initiatives at Brigham and Women's Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center.

Race inequality affects not just the mind, but the body, too, according to Ortiz. Understanding that is important both for healthcare leaders and teens, the future leaders, she said.

“I just don’t know how folks don’t work with young people. Because they just bring you life, right? Their frontal cortices are not sealed over yet, so they really believe in change,” Ortiz said. “Young people, especially now, are just fire. They are intersectional. They are looking for healing. They’re clear about climate. They’re really unapologetic in how explicit they are.”

Her youth works dates back around 20 years, practically since Ortiz was a teenager herself. The Brookline native got a taste of youth programming as a student in Brookline High School’s “School Within a School,”  an alternative, democratic classroom environment where students and teachers are on more equal ground.

It was then Ortiz, who is white, first began thinking about racial justice. That scholarship persists today in her work with young people.

“What’s been really powerful for me that is amplified by youth work is to really understand racism as a form of trauma, she said. “In all of the ways that we approach racial justice work, I think we often try to treat it like a neck-up activity, like we’re going to solve this thinking about it and just approaching it from there, when in fact I think it needs to be a body activity as well.”

The most rewarding part of the work, she said, are the moments of clarity, when she can start to picture equality in practice. Working in racial justice, she’s seen this more than once — in meetings when everything is clicking, everyone is feeling seen and nurtured and collaborative.

“It can also be spaces that are super toxic and traumatized and triggering and people are really crappy to each other — I’ve seen it go both ways,” she said. “But man, when it is good it is like, ‘This is what it’s gonna feel like.’ And I think we have to make sure we find those spaces.”

It’s all about making the liberation work irresistible, Ortiz said, citing one of her favorite authors, adrienne maree brown. “It has to feel good, because if it doesn’t feel good, nobody is going to stay in it and engage in it,” she said. “So you’ve got to blend the pain of organizing and challenging unfair systems with light moments of dance and joy and grief and food and community.”

One source of that community is “Racial Reconciliation and Healing,” a project Ortiz began with SJPHC clinical social worker Dennie Butler-MacKay. There, white high school students and students of color (as well as faculty) come together to explore their racial identities and learn how to address and end injustice, particularly in public health.

And it works, because young people especially have a solid grasp on changing the world around them, Ortiz said.

“They’re the ones who usually push us the hardest. They’re coming for us,” she laughed. “They do not play, they are very clear and they do not have time for us to not get it right now. We better be ready.”

This story is part of a Women's History Month series spotlighting women leading in the Brookline community. To apply for the “Racial Reconciliation and Healing” program, visit https://tinyurl.com/rmlfq87.