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Longtime Chicano activist dies
Joseph “José” Martínez, March 19, 1956 to November 30, 2014.

By Federico Martínez, Special to La Prensa

He spent 25 years in prison for the murder of two men. But God gave Joseph “José” Martínez a second chance, and for the next several decades he used it to inspire and encourage young people from following in the same self-destructive path.

Mr. Martínez, 58, died Sunday evening after suffering a heart-attack that left him on life-support during the last week of his life.

An accomplished artist, Mr. Martínez quietly became one of Toledo’s greatest unsung heroes over the years.

“All I'm trying to do is make the best of the second chance God gave me,” he said during a recent interview at the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center. “God has truly blessed me.”

Born and raised in Toledo's old south end, Mr. Martínez used his skills as an artist and his knowledge of life on the streets to help at-risk youths channel their energies to better their community. Under his direction, he would gather gang youth and teach them how to paint culturally-themed murals on office buildings and bridges in an effort to beautify the neighborhood.

On an almost daily basis he would patrol the old south end and take it upon himself to stop and talk to youth involved in gangs.

In the fall of 2013 he confronted four youth at a street corner who were skipping school. He challenged them to attend classes for one month - if they learned something useful they agreed to continue attending school; if they learned nothing he promised to stop bothering them. The four youths returned to school and never missed another class that school year.

On another occasion a well-known neighborhood gang-banger became belligerent and told Mr. Martínez that he didn't need an education because he planned to build his own empire selling drugs.

Mr. Martínez, who shared the story several months before he died, said he asked the young man a simple math question: “How many ounces does it take to make a pound?”

The young gang-banger didn't know the answer. He also demonstrated a lack of knowledge of simple arithmetic.

“Then how will you know how much to give the buyer if you don't know how much something weighs? How will you know how much change you owe somebody if you can't add or subtract? How will you know if people are ripping you off?”

“You're not going to become some big, successful drug dealer," Mr. Martínez told him. "You're going to become the dumbest, poorest drug dealer in Toledo.”

He never boasted of his efforts or sought the limelight for what he did for the community.

He recently became an active volunteer at the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center; lending his artistic skills to strengthen the organization's existing art programs. He also organized a weekly Spanish movie night at the center, which he hoped would give families something to do together.

A longtime Chicano rights activist, Mr. Martínez loved to talk about Chicano history and his past involvement in the local chapter of the Brown Berets.

During the past year he had been talking with several other former gang members about joining forces and developing anti-gang programs for Latino youth.

Mr. Martínez began to develop his art skills while in prison, even as he used that time to earn a GED and take some college courses.

While in prison he participated in a crime prevention program that allowed him to share his story with troubled youth.

“As a means to further distract me from my surroundings I began drawing cartoon characters for my grandchildren,” he said during a recent interview. “Art quickly became my passion, as it helped me live beyond iron bars and the brick walls that confined me.”

He continued to develop his skills as an artist after being transferred to the Toledo Correctional Facility. It was there that he began drawing murals.

“Art was always a part of my life,” Mr. Martínez said.

When he was a child his mother would make furniture out of old cloth and cardboard. His father would carve wooden toys for all 12 of his children for the holidays.

In a self-penned biography Mr. Martínez explained the goal of his artwork was to bring joy to people’s lives.

“These memories bring me great joy, as does my artwork,” he wrote in his biography. “It has also helped to serve as a great rehabilitation tool through my years of incarceration.

“To this day every painting that I do puts a smile on my face and helps me get through the day; I hope it does the same to you.”

Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12/02/14 19:35:11 -0800.




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