In spite of the struggles he has overcome in his young life, Martell Person does not immediately strike those who meet him as a fighter. In fact, he presents as a quiet, thoughtful, gentle young man, who listens more than he speaks. His Beat the Odds nominator, Joy Esboldt, describes Martell as both. He is “a remarkable young man,” she writes, “with a spirit that out-fought incredible odds, a humble and powerful presence of care, and a leader committed to the betterment of others and community.”
An African and Native American boy, Martell’s young life was filled with poverty, homelessness, drugs and instability. His father was absent most of the time and his mother was consumed with her own struggles. His family moved around a lot. When he was unable to live with his mom, Martell stayed with friends and family. Martell admits his childhood was not easy. His family, he says, was “lower class and non-privileged.” They didn’t have enough food or money and couldn’t make ends meet. It was a childhood of “going without.” Yet, for Martell, his struggles are not his focus. When he talks about himself, he tells his story with grace, respect and even gratefulness for those in his life. His harshest criticism is to say, he thinks having a father figure would have made his life easier.
“When people ask me about my life,” he says, “I tell them I’m okay, because I am. I find a way to get through it.”
One of the ways he copes is with art and music. “I like to draw,” he explains, “I have a wall of drawings that I have done.” Drawing allows him to express himself and music, he says, inspires him. School also helps him “get through” life. Although he hasn’t always, he now recognizes the importance of education. Plus, he says, “school is a good escape to process things. You never know how things are going to be when you go home. All of my teachers have been good. They all cared. My friends are there. I appreciate school.”
Martell is undecided about the college he will attend but he knows he wants to study art or graphic design. He says his two sisters amaze him. “Coming from where we came, it was hard getting out. Seeing them go to college and do something with their lives is inspiring.”
Martell is equally appreciative of his mother. “Throughout all the changes, my mom has always been there. She’s struggling and has her own stuff, but I can’t be ungrateful because I know how crazy it is. Her life was a struggle. My mom came from a negative place. She didn’t know her dad and had trouble with her mom.” He wisely adds, “We make our own decisions, but it matters how you come into life. People who disagree don’t understand that reality. I had to learn early to depend on myself and to be independent.”
Martell’s goals for his future are as humble as he is. He wants to complete college, get a steady job doing what he loves, live in his own apartment and eventually have a family. And, he emphasizes, “I’m going to be in my kids’ lives because that’s important.”