It was a pact among six young men. A pact made long before they could probably fully grasp the challenge that would await them.
They were 10th graders at Roosevelt High School at the time, and they all had plans to go off to college after high school graduation. No matter what, they promised one another that they would each come back after college and help advise the academically struggling young people of their hometown of Gary.
Alfred Martin was one of those young men.
Sure, he could have turned his back on his city, just like so many have done before. Yet Martin, who is now the Executive Director of Urban Suns Community Development, was not ready to give up on the young people of Gary.
“It was about the love I felt for the city I grew up in and the need I saw amongst the young people who still lived there,” he says. “I knew I could make a difference.”
And so he did.
“Today, I spent time with a young man who just graduated from Illinois State and is now awaiting a call from the NFL,” recalls Martin, who also finds time in his busy schedule to act as a “surrogate father” to his little brother. “I have known and have been working with him since he was 16. Those are the moments when I can truly see we are making a difference.”
Martin quickly realized the importance of role models within urban areas while working alongside his mother at a summer learning program she organized every year.
“Alfred was a very serious child,” chuckles his mother, Joyce Hunt. “He was a good student, and was always very socially aware of his community from a very young age. Even as a teen, he was interested in working with young people and tutoring his peers. Most of all, he loved school. I remember one time there was a blizzard. There was six feet of snow on the ground. And when all of the other kids were thrilled to hear that school was cancelled, Alfred was devastated.”
After graduating from Jackson State University with a degree in marketing/business and a master's degree in education from Tennessee State University, Martin and the five friends returned to Gary to create Urban Suns. A nonprofit organization, Urban Suns was created to better enhance community development throughout Northwest Indiana. Since being founded, the organization has successfully mentored countless young people and their families throughout Lake County.
“My son is committed to working diligently to ensure that all facets of community development are addressed to strengthen the infrastructure of Northwest Indiana relative to young people,” explains Hunt. “Under the leadership of my son, Urban Suns tackles five of the most important national issues that face young people today: literacy, education, life skills, behavior and obesity.”
Offering a wide range of mentoring programs, Urban Suns has successfully expanded to best meet the needs of the young people in Lake County. Created in 2003, the Athle’demics program specifically targets youth currently participating in high school athletics. There is also the Urban Suns Community Development Speed Camp, which Martin says is designed to “exercise both mind and body, making these young people both mentally and physically tough.” In order to continue these programs, Martin says that dedicated volunteers are always needed.
However, Martin says he deals with challenges on a daily basis. One of the roughest to conquer involves the young people who simply aren’t interested in receiving help from the Urban Suns team. “We see a number of kids who are just here because they are in the system,” he says quietly. “They are not here because they necessarily want to be here. It hurts when I see someone who has so much potential, but are simply not interested in changing or growing. Keeping these men and women focused on a better way of life remains my goal no matter what. Most of the kids do want to do something positive with their life – it’s just their surroundings that seem to hold them back.”
One of the other challenges is spreading the word regarding the Urban Suns organization. “Sometimes it feels like the good work you do is simply not recognized out there in the community,” says Martin, who hopes to someday be able to build a facility where mentoring and tutoring can all be done under one roof. “I’m not one to be out there boasting and bragging about what we are doing, and I don’t have the time to promote the organization as much as I should. But doing something positive should never be frowned upon.”
“Alfred is a loving son, surrogate father, educator, mentor, coach, child advocate and a man of exceptional character,” Hunt says. “He is a man that deserves to be recognized for his true dedication to youth building within our community.”