Students Rising AboveBy Christin Ayers

by Christin Ayers and Jennifer Mistrot

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — A San Jose high school senior has overcome a troubled home life to excel in school and become a mentor to other students.

When high school senior Nayeli Martinez hits the basketball court, her mind is transformed. It’s been her safe space and stress relief since freshman year at San Jose’s Luis Valdez Leadership Academy.

“Basketball is amazing. I love playing basketball,” said Martinez. “Being able to have like that distraction for me, allowed me to stay focused and not get too stressed or too sad about my situation at the time.”

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The situation during Martinez’ freshman year was tough. The most important person in Martinez’ life – her father – was in jail, and he would remain there for the next year.

“You know at first it is so hard to believe,” recalled Martinez. “You know you don’t ever picture someone that you are supposed to look up to do something like that bad.”

But Martinez would take that experience and use it to help others. In basketball terms, she’s a facilitator, someone who makes everyone on her team better both on and off the court.

Even Assistant Principal Irene Castillon is inspired.

“Nayeli gives me hope,” said Castillon. “Nayeli always reminds me of the power of resistance because of her story. She reminds me of the power of pushing students so that they can see their own potential.”

Sharing her story with others has also helped Martinez move forward. She helps mentor other students with a writing fellowship at school.

“It is okay to be like vulnerable sometimes,” explained Martinez. “And it is all a matter of like how you confront it rather than like bury it.”

Martinez’ father has served his time and is back in her life. She’s planning on studying education at college with the help of Students Rising Above. She’s grateful for the help she has received from SRA. But Martinez says she credits her family, and team as her biggest support.

“It’s like the best it could ever be, you know.”