Have you ever been teased or bullied all because you felt different?
There’s one kid who doesn’t have to think back very far…that was his reality.
Martinis went to school every day feeling sad, afraid, and alone all because he had long hair and a high voice.
Martinis believes 6 –year-old kids should be happy and carefree, but due to bullying, this wasn’t his 6-year-old experience. Although Martinis grew up in a loving, supportive home, his environment at school was a different story. Kids said some really mean and hurtful things.
Martinis says he felt like he had no choice but to defend himself. He described himself as smart-mouthed and a little combative; perhaps his defense mechanism for bullies.
He didn’t put it together then, but today – 12 years later in his senior year at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School – Martinis realizes his art instructor, Ms. Stacey, at the John H. Harland Boys & Girls Club, showed him how to turn a negative situation into something positive.
“Who would have known that was even a possibility through art…messy kid art at that!,” Martinis said.
He recalled his 6-year-old self sitting in a small room full of rambunctious kids splattering paint everywhere. Looking back, there was nothing fancy about the Club art room, he says. But for Martinis and his peers, it was an immaculate, pristine palace for healing. It was way more than just a safe place to go after school.
“I had a hard time opening up about the bullying, so going to the art room was the perfect escape; it was like a release from the real world,” he said. “I did a lot of doodling, but the more I experimented, the more Ms. Stacey saw something special in me. She motivated me to keep drawing.”
And eventually drawing turned into a hobby that Martinis thrived at and really enjoyed. To this day, he loves drawing, painting, and customizing and sewing his own clothes. He’s also expanding his skills in Photoshop and other digital editing programs.
“My 6-year-old mind could never conceive how art was shaping me into the confident person I am today.”
Over the years, Martinis developed self-confidence and he began to care less and less about other people’s opinions. He really began to shine.
Aside from having his artwork prominently displayed in the Club and in some of the most preeminent venues across the city, Martinis received the honor of Youth of the Year (two years in a row!) for being a good leader in his Club, community, and school!
Martinis says it’s hard to believe his journey at Boys & Girls Club started over 10 years ago. Each day, Martinis along with his mom and younger sisters ride by the Club on their way to school.
He says, “Seeing the new Harland Club being rebuilt has been pretty cool to watch.” Martinis is also thrilled about his Club, which is like a second home, making history as the first-ever arts and innovation-focused Club in the country.
Martinis believes the development really speaks to the value of arts programming and the impact it has on kids like him. “I think kids are pretty lucky to have professional artists around to teach different forms of creativity.” The new Harland has a dance studio for performers. There’s even a kitchen for culinary arts. The teens have their own area, and there is the design and tech lab – Martinis’ personal favorite!
Although he’ll be heading to college next fall –his top choice Alabama A&M University – Martinis will still have a few more months to keep working on his craft. Martinis wants to study graphic design and one day open his own business. “I’m thankful every day for Ms. Stacey and all of the loving staff at my Club. I appreciate them for considering all kids and understanding that different types of programs can help different kids thrive.”
While it’s the arts for Martinis, it might be football or public speaking for someone else. Regardless of the outlet, Martinis says he’s proud that his Club believes in the investment of Great Futures for all kids.
“Although leaving my Club will be bittersweet, I know I’ll be ready to take on whatever the next chapter has for me.”
For more information on how to support programs that help our youth get college and career ready, live healthy, and lead in their communities, visit www.bgcma.org/get-