C&NN’s Juan Martinez Named National Geographic Emerging Explorer

C&NN’s Juan Martinez Named National Geographic Emerging Explorer
“When kids who have very little really experience the power of the great outdoors, it can change their whole lives.”

How does a boy whose family lived in a tool shed in South Central Los Angeles grow up to be a national leader, invited to the White House, and driven to change an entire generation’s relationship with nature? Ask Juan Martinez.

“My parents exemplified the values they preached to me—get an education, nurture your family, strive to do better.” But reality on the street was teaching him a very different lesson. “In my neighborhood it was gang members who succeeded, had what I wanted, and could provide for their families. It’s not that I thought it was glamorous, it was survival.” On the verge of following that path, something wonderful happened to him: a failing grade in high school science.

The teacher saw beyond the grade to Martinez’s potential and promised he could pass the class by staying after school for the next three months and joining the Eco Club. The club had carved out a small garden patch where Martinez spent afternoons planting jalapeño seeds. Then a much bigger idea was planted—the chance to join a two-week scholarship trip to Wyoming’s Teton Science Schools. “Ten years later, I still can’t find words to describe the first moment I saw those mountains rising up from the valley,” Martinez recalls. “Watching bison, seeing a sky full of stars, and hiking through that scenery was overwhelming.”

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