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Summer 2002
CUNY Biologists Cultivate New Medicines
Remarkable June Grads Break the Mold
Major CUNY Response to Nursing Shortage
Harlem Hospital Leader a Role Model for Salk Scholars
"Votes Rebuild New York" Campaign Launched
Goldstein “Closeup” On Honors College Governors Island, High Schools
CUNY ANNOUNCES 9/11 Memorial Competition
CCNY Engineer Honored by the Nation

Seminar-in-a-Book Ponders 9/11

From "Ground Zero" Rapper to City Council Candidate
Turning Anger into Literature
Model City Council Planned in the Fall
Highlights of 2002-2003 State Adopted Budget
Two New CUNY Trustees Appointed
Biomedical Engineer Wins Guggenheim
City University Leading Producer of Hispanic Graduates
The Challenge of AIDS in Africa
Bilingual: College French, Scientist's Latin
Presidential Appointments for Queens and York Colleges

Queens College Artist Adds New Passion to His Palette

El Diario-La Prensa Editor Honored at Model Senate

Intel Chief Plunges into Memory

Dual Citizen of the Pen

"Opticals" for Woody Allen, Illustrations for Mother Nature
CUNY Faculty Experts on Post-9/11 Response Listed on Web Site
 
 


From “Ground Zero” Rapper to City Council Candidate


George Martinez on the campaign trail last summer.
George Martinez on the campaign trail last summer.
Adapted here (and expanded) is a story that first appeared on the regularly scheduled 30-minute TV news magazine “Study With The Best” (CUNY-TV Channel 75, Sundays at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.).The show highlights CUNY’s myriad academic programs, outstanding faculty, students, alumni, and important research initiatives. The lively, fast-paced series is aimed particularly at the large pool of prospective CUNY students in local high schools.

As a poor kid growing up in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, George Martinez was told he had little chance of going to college—much less becoming a scholar. So much for seeing into the future.

Martinez, in fact, has become one of that growing cadre of upwardly mobile students proudly referred to within CUNY as a “three-fer.” He hit the books at Borough of Manhattan Community College, graduated and moved on to Brooklyn College, and is now homing in on a doctorate in political science at the Graduate Center. To top it off, he has also been teaching political science as an adjunct lecturer at Hunter College.

And along the way he has combined his passion for education with two other consuming interests. “In a nutshell,” says Martinez, “I am an artist, an activist and an educator.” The particular art Martinez refers to—rap—makes a pretty ideal fit for a political activist/scientist, since rap is well-known vehicle for social and cultural commentary. “I was in a very politically conscious group called Ground Zero, a name that has taken on a new significance since 9/11.”

Like so many City University students who have graduated since its founding, Martinez is the first person in his family to go to college. He and his sister were raised, with public assistance, by their single mom. “My sister was embarrassed to use food stamps in stores, so I had to go and do the shopping instead,” he recalls with bemusement.

He also recalls a lot of negative reinforcement about going to school—“it’s not for you”—and dismissive attitudes about politics. “You watch it on TV, but it wasn’t something you actually do!” CUNY, Martinez adds, “helped me to develop my voice… and empowered me.”

Base camp for the Martinez ascent was a remedial math course at BMCC. He had gone to a very good high school (Brooklyn Tech), but did not walk away with his Regent’s diploma. “When my application to Brooklyn College was turned down, I went to BMCC and got my Associate’s degree.”

Soon Martinez was back at Brooklyn College and picking up considerable momentum. Professor of English Gail Smith, administrator of the CUNY Pipeline program, recalls, “I first met George in 1996 or 1997. He was a junior and wanted to enter the CUNY Pipeline program. The program is designed for minority students who are interested in earning a Ph.D., college teaching, and doing research. George was interested in all of those things. He applied to the program, we interviewed him and we accepted him. The rest is history.”

The last chapter of his Brooklyn College history: a Bachelor’s in political science magna cum laude in 1998.

Columbia University was ready to welcome Martinez as a graduate student, but he chose instead to remain at CUNY and the Graduate Center. “I just felt ‘at home’ at CUNY—and also considered its program in American politics was the stronger.” And it did not hurt that Martinez won one of the competitive Minority Access/Graduate Networking (MAGNET) four-year fellowships offered by the Graduate School.

Martinez expects to receive his degree in two years, but his studies have not prevented him from putting his knowledge of political science to practical use as a resident of a Latino community that, he says, “resembles the one I grew up in—in many ways: poor, without many advantages, and continuously getting put down.”

Prof. Smith recalls Martinez “as an activist. He’s always been interested in his neighborhood, in the people, in making life better for them.” Being of this mind, Martinez did the obvious thing: he ran for political office. When the county party organization got him knocked off the ballot, he was only further invigorated to take his campaign to the grass roots. His slogan, with its discernible rapper’s lilt, was: “Go where others won’t; say things others don’t; do things others can’t.”

One issue particularly raised Martinez’ blood pressure. “My community is part of what is called the lead poisoning belt. From the South Bronx through the lower East Side, through Williamsburg, through Sunset Park and Red Hook, we have the highest rates of child lead poisoning. No one was talking about it!”

Running against an incumbent, Martinez did manage, as an Independent, to garner 13% of the vote in the primary. “That’s the most ever in the history of the 38th District.”

“It was grass roots efforts. It was knocking on doors, going to trains in the morning. And, at the end of the day we affected the conversation. We made sure that people who were not part of the process became part of the process. We may not have won the election, but you can’t tell me that isn’t a victory.”

Martinez’ dissertation will—no surprise here—focus on voting behavior. He is already looking back on his run with a scholarly eye. And he is already planning to gather more “data” in the same hands-on way: his name will be on the ballot for Democratic party district leader on Sept. 10, and he has his eye on the District’s now term-limited incumbent, Angel Rodriguez.