Martin Hunter is an alumnus of Alain Locke Charter School’s Class of 2008.
After graduating from Alain Locke, Martin attended Loyola Academy in Wilmette. He described the affluent suburb as being a stark contrast from the Austin neighborhood in which he grew up on Chicago’s West Side. Following Loyola Academy, Martin went on to study economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which led him to his career today as a Wells Fargo financial analyst.
Martin and his sister, Joy, a graduate of Alain Locke’s Class of 2009, were raised by a single mother, who Martin credits as being a positive influence for him while growing up in an environment that far too often consisted of adversity.
“One thing about my mom that I’ve always realized was she made her life [all about] raising her kids,” Martin said. “It’s motivating for me being able to look at my mom’s life—look at the challenges that she went through to raise two kids; and it’s inspirational.”
Martin also credits his mentors within the LINK Unlimited Scholars program as having a profound impact on his success. The program pairs scholarship donors with the students they support financially for mentoring. “They did way more than they had to,” Martin said of his mentors.
Last year, Martin himself had the opportunity to contribute to Alain Locke students. On the tenth anniversary of his graduation, he delivered remarks to Alain Locke’s graduating Class of 2018.
Below is a lightly-edited transcript of Martin discussing that event, and more.
AL: What was your reaction after being asked to deliver the remarks at last year’s graduation ceremony?
MH: I thought it was going to be a breeze, like, … “It can’t be that difficult, they’re eighth-graders.” But when I sat in front of that computer to type up what it is I wanted to say, I realized, “This is a big moment. This is the first time a graduating class from Alain Locke is going to be able to see someone who sat in those same seats and be a form of representation for their futures.” It took me hours to figure out exactly what I wanted to say, because I wanted to represent this image as best I could, but also I wanted to be myself. … But most importantly I realized that this was for the Class of 2018. … I hope that the kids took something away from it, because I certainly did.
“I’ve always [been competitive] because I realized that the best get acknowledged, and the best, they perform. And they make a difference [in the world].”
AL: What were you like as a student back in your Alain Locke days?
MH: I’ve always been a little competitive, with my peers specifically. … I always knew I wanted to keep up; I always knew I wanted to keep up with the best. I knew that I wasn’t the best at everything that I attempted [laughs], but personally I just felt as though I—if you’re in the top 10, I want to be in the top nine. I’ve always been like that. I’ve always thought that way because I realized that the best get acknowledged, and the best, they perform. And they make a difference [in the world].
AL: Are there any memories from Alain Locke that you consider to be a defining moment in your life’s trajectory?
MH: When I was in sixth grade, report cards came out and I didn’t do as well as I wanted to in class. I was very disappointed in myself. I knew my mom probably wouldn’t be happy. I mean, talk about an 11-year-old who thinks the world’s just ending [laughs].
What I decided to do, because I was very, very hard on myself, was I took a pencil, and on the front of the report card I wrote some very bad things about myself: “I’m dumb; I’m stupid; I can’t do this.” Then I thought about it and I was like, “I shouldn’t write that, I don’t want the teacher to see it,” so I erased it. The teacher at the time, … he saw the … horribly erased note and he called me over to his desk. He looked at me and said, “I never want to see that again, ever.” …
I think about that moment almost every time I reach an obstacle or a challenge, because I remember that somebody reminded me that I can do it, that I am capable. That was just a really big moment as a kid where I realized, “Nothing’s given to you.”
“That’s the story of my life with pretty much anything I’ve done—I don’t know how I’m going to do it; I don’t know how I’m going to get there—I just know I’m going to get there.”
AL: What motivated your decision to choose Loyola Academy for high school?
MH: I remember thinking, “I don’t want to go to my neighborhood schools, absolutely not.” There’s nothing wrong with going to public schools; there’s nothing wrong with going to your neighborhood schools. I know people who’ve done very well. … But when … I found out that I could go somewhere else to achieve success, I figured, “Well, why not?” … And then shortly after, we were presented opportunities to apply for [scholarships] and all of a sudden this thing became a possibility. Well, the challenge didn’t end there.
Now my mom gets involved. … I’m like, “Mom, I think I want to go to this private school. I know it’s far, but I’ll figure it out.” And she’s like, “You’re not going all the way up there. … How are you going to get there?” [laughs] And I was like, “I don’t know, but I know I want to go.” That’s the story of my life with pretty much anything I’ve done—I don’t know how I’m going to do it; I don’t know how I’m going to get there—I just know I’m going to get there.
AL: Commuting to Wilmette from the West Side as a high school student every single day certainly does sound like a challenge. How did you manage to do it?
MH: I mean, talk about a huge transition. For me, personally, and my peers, going from the West Side of Chicago every single day to Wilmette, Illinois—[it was two] completely different worlds. To this day, I look back and I think about what it was like going from two different worlds every single day starting at 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. at night—I don’t know how I did it. … It was very, very, very difficult, but, I had a lot of help. …
My mom would force me to get up every single day to go to school [laughs]. And it was not easy. I think of times in my senior year—almost done—second semester, and I’m like, “Look, mom, I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t.” And she’s … constantly pushing me, encouraging me, and reminding me that I’m at the finish line. …
But, [there was] the challenge of having to understand the reality of, “I live here, but I want to be there.” … And that was also a big challenge understanding that, “I’m not the same. I have to remember where I’m from. I have to remember who I am.” It was hard; it was very challenging. But the constant reminders and the encouragement that I felt internally was through the support of my mom, through the support of my mentors, and friends and family as well.
AL: Now that you’re an adult, would you say your decision to attend Loyola Academy was worth it?
MH: I think about what was going on in my neighborhood while I was going up to Loyola Academy every day. It’s nothing new. You hear about gang wars. You’re used to hearing gunshots; You’re used to being exposed to all of these negative influences that my peers and I had to walk through every day and—that was also an encouraging feeling. Every day, at least the way I perceived it, I got to walk through this world with these influences that I knew I didn’t want to be a part of. I wanted to represent something more.