Sometimes the story of neighborhood revitalization is best told through one of its residents. The East Lake Foundation and its mission to transform the East Lake community becomes clear when you meet Jeffrey Martín. Martín started his education in East Lake at Drew Charter School, has broken his family’s cycle of poverty and is now giving back to kids in that same neighborhood. We talked to Martín about his transformational story.
Q: Your early home life was not an easy one. How did you overcome your situation?
A: I am a child of two parents who self-medicated themselves to cope with a lot of the systemic issues that are associated with racism in our country. I had to work through that but I did not go through it on my own. I had wonderful teachers that came from Drew Charter School. I lived in a neighborhood where my God-Mom and God-Grandmother lived and they were also supportive. It took a village to get me to the place where I am in my life right now.
Q: You attended Drew Charter School from 5th to 8th grades. How has that part of your education affected you?
A: The teachers that Drew convened weren’t just teachers. I thought of these folks as my aunts and uncles and we all know how aunts and uncles are when it comes down to supporting “the family.” My former 6th grade math and science teacher, Mr. Robert L. Waller, definitely made a huge impression on me and broke me out of my shyness and gave me a template of how I should be pursuing academic excellence.
Q: You received a full scholarship to the Paideia School (at the time there was not a Drew Charter School Senior Academy for high school students). You say it pushed you out of your comfort zone.
A: It was the first time I was introduced to upper and middle class folks and I went from a predominantly black school to being a minority, so I think there were some “shock” features to that. But I am a person who tends to thrive in different environments so it was probably one of the best moves for me to grow as an adult and a leader.
Q: You received a full college scholarship and your bachelor’s degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Is that where you hatched the idea for your business, honorCode?
A: As I continued to see how different schools empowered their students and how access shifted their education, honorCode was a way for me to think about a solution for underrepresented groups within this space. We’re trying to bring workforce development into the classroom and give students access to income and wealth.
Q: honorCode provides curriculum and training to schools to bring more Computer Science and social emotional learning into the K12 Classroom. But how do you bring those kind of skills to kindergarteners?
A: We get them excited about STEM and STEAM. We do it through visual-based code such as Scratch, through game-building design. We also teach them problem solving, character, grit, negotiation, collaboration and teamwork.
Q: Last year you brought honorCode to Drew Charter School and now provide professional development and instruction in the classroom and in after-school programming. Why did you choose to come back to Atlanta?
A: I knew I wanted to come back to Atlanta. Drew is where I started and I do understand the community around Drew has changed a lot, but that does not mean that there aren’t still needs that are present. Coming back to Drew was one of the best decisions that I ever made. We’ve now impacted over 1,400 students between Purpose Built Schools, Junior Achievement of Georgia and Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. That’s huge.
Q: So what’s next for honorCode?
A: We hope to scale in the south with our black and brown populations and our rural communities. We want to build coalitions between educators and our local technology workforce to start putting deeper investments into our city. It will take our technology workforce mentoring and putting some of their financial capital into schools so they have this pipeline. I am trying to make sure that 11th and 12th graders have appropriate computer science training in the classroom and we find them mentors from MailChimp and Cabbage and NCR to come and mentor them and get an internship before they graduate high school.
Martín’s story is a shining example of turning the “impossible into I’m possible.” He continues to help change lives in the East Lake community. For information on honorCode, visit www.honorcodeatl.org or @honorcodeatl on Twitter and Instagram.