“It was an amazing feeling,” he said. “I still have that letter. It was an amazing feeling like ‘I can do this’.”
He realized “Si se puede,” the famous Cesar Chavez labor movement quote applied to him. Yes he could do it, he could succeed at a four year university — and so can others like him. They just need someone to show them the way.
Martinez likes to be a role model for young people — especially those in his Latino community in Melrose — to show them that they too can attend college and make a difference.
“They’re not going for these opportunities and something needs to change,” he said. “Something needs to be done. If they want to get ahead — education is the way.”
It took Martinez some time to figure that message out himself. After high school, Martinez started at Minnesota State Community and Technical College studying criminal justice. It was only by chance he’d enrolled in college — his sister decided to go to there, so he went along.
But he never had role models who’d graduated college. His parents and their friends didn’t go. He didn’t know anything about college life or what to do.
He believed college was only for “smart people” and didn’t know who to reach out to for help. Instead he left school and returned to Melrose and got a good paying job at Melrose Dairy Proteins, a cheese manufacturing plant.
He was making good money and bought a house and a nice vehicle, but he wasn’t happy.
“I didn’t quite see myself working in a factory job for the rest of my life,” Martinez said. “I knew working with people was my thing. I love communicating. I love helping others. People were always on my mind.”
So when he lost the job in 2014, instead of seeking other factory work, he took it as a sign to return to school and find a way to help others. Martinez started at Alexandria Community College that spring studying criminal justice and completing his liberal arts degree.
This time he found success in higher education. Martinez made the Dean’s List and earned scholarships. When he graduated, he took the next step and set out to tour universities.
The first place he visited was St. Cloud State University, and he loved it. He was amazed by the diversity and the mentors he found on campus. And he quickly found success at St. Cloud State — once again making the Dean’s List.
He took the Chavez quote as his personal motto and determined to take school one semester at a time. Even when it meant selling his house and trading in his vehicle for an older model — it didn’t matter because school came first.
“At this moment it doesn’t matter what I have,” Martinez said. “At this moment my education is more important.”
It was in St. Cloud that his dreams really took shape. In an elective class on child welfare Martinez left the class everyday moved by the plight of children but with a new goal forming — changing the lives of children and teenagers for the better. He switched his major to social work and made criminal justice a minor.
“I want to work with kids and teenagers because you can still work with them quite a bit to change their future,” he said. “I feel like I can still reach out to them.”
He’s found help from mentoring professors and donors at St. Cloud State University. In 2018 he was one of three inaugural winners of the President Earl H. Potter III Memorial Scholarship.
The scholarship honors the contributions of St. Cloud State’s 22nd president, the late Earl H. Potter III, and supports underrepresented students, including first generation students and students of color.
Donors are amazing,” Martinez said. “Sometimes donors don’t realize the impact they have. … When you get that scholarship it literally takes that stress off your back, gives you relief. You feel like somebody cares.”
His goal is to one day get to a place where he can give back too. But he’s not waiting until graduation to try and reach people in his community.
Last spring Martinez worked with St. Cloud State’s Admission’s office to bring his daughter, Kim, and her fifth grade class from Melrose to tour St. Cloud State.
The children met Blizzard, took a tour of campus and pointed out the buildings where they plan to attend someday to pursue their own dreams.
“Seniors often have their mind set on what they want to do,” he said. “If we keep bringing these kids to the university, at least once a year children tend to remember things that have a great impact. We have memories. Bad memories can have a negative impact, but good memories are important too. They’ll remember coming here.”
— Alex Martinez, social work major
He’s also not waiting for graduation to try and make a difference in the lives of the other population he hopes to reach with his degree — those on probation trying to renew their lives after a conviction.
This fall Martinez formed Adelante LCC a business that provides bilingual Spanish and English remedial classes on domestic violence using the Duluth Model, a philosophy on ending domestic violence.
Martinez’ first client is Todd County, where he will teach the class to men ordered to take the class following a domestic violence conviction. He plans to expand to teach the class in additional Minnesota counties outside the Twin Cities metro area, which already has an established Spanish-language version of the class, he said.
In the next year he plans to do internships in child welfare and probation before his expected graduation in fall 2019.
“For me to be able to graduate — it means other people can get motivated and see the reward in pursuing an education,” he said. “I can see other people, teenagers, especially from Melrose, saying ‘this guy did it. I can do it also.’”