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?”