The gift from Kathy and Alex Martinez ’73 will help students pursue social justice in many forms. Here Anthony Hill ’22 works on restocking the shelves in the Reed Community Pantry.

The gift from Kathy and Alex Martinez ’73 will help students pursue social justice in many forms. Here Anthony Hill ’22 works on restocking the shelves in the Reed Community Pantry.

Stepping Up For Social Justice

Alex Martinez ’73 and his wife Kathy endow Reed’s Social Justice Research and Education Fund.

By Romel Hernandez | December 3, 2020

Fifty years ago, when Alex Martinez ’73 was a student at Reed, the struggle for peace, civil rights, and social justice transformed his generation.

Today, at another pivotal moment in history, he and his wife Kathy are helping current and future generations of Reedies change the world.

The Martinezes have committed a total of $500,000 to support social justice and financial aid. The lion’s share of this gift, $300,000, will endow Reed’s Social Justice Research and Education Fund (SJREF), which started as a pilot program under the auspices of the Office of Institutional Diversity, supporting students working on civic engagement and equity beyond the classroom. Based on the fund’s track record of success, Reed has sought to endow it in perpetuity.

While the endowment is growing over the next three years, Alex and Kathy will continue to support the fund with $15,000 annually, as they’ve been doing since it was started in 2017. They have also committed $125,000 to their ongoing support of financial aid.

“We’re creating opportunities for students to explore causes they’re passionate about while connecting them with Reed,” Alex says. “When brilliant students get a chance to engage the world in new and different ways, lives change.”

For Reedies like Alyse Cronk ’20, the SJREF initiative provided a jump-start in social activism. She spent a summer as an intern with Students for Education, Equity, and Direct Service (SEEDS). She staffed the Reed Community Pantry, which provides free food and other necessities to community members as part of the college’s Basic Needs Initiative. She oversaw pantry operations, from scheduling and training volunteers to coordinating with partner organizations to stocking supplies.

“The experience was transformational,” she says. “Reed is a progressive place, but getting a chance to get out there and learn about food justice taught me so much about the ways food intersects with so many other issues.”

One reason that the initiative has been so successful is that it encourages students to partner with professors and staff. “We wanted to give students a chance to work with faculty and staff on social justice in a way that was collaborative,” says Assistant Dean for Institutional Diversity Jessika Chi, who oversees the program.

SJREF has helped more than 30 students pursue projects such as improving support for nontraditional students; promoting diversity of underrepresented students in computer science; and developing an inclusive new curriculum for Reed’s science outreach program in elementary school.

For Alex, the gift caps a lifetime dedicated to social justice—starting as a public defender, and leading to the Colorado Supreme Court. “The gift brings it all back home for me because it touches on issues I’ve been engaged with my entire life,” he says.

He grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Denver and was drawn to Reed by its academic excellence and reputation for welcoming free thinkers and free spirits. He got what he was looking for. “Reed definitely affected my way of thinking about and engaging with the world,” he says.

He attended Reed for three years before transferring to the University of Colorado to be closer to home. He earned a law degree at the University of Colorado and went to work as a public defender. From there he was named a county and district court judge. In 1996 he became the first Hispanic appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court, where he served for 15 years.

After that, he became the public safety manager for Denver, overseeing reforms of the city’s police and fire departments, and later served as general counsel for the Denver Public Schools before retiring in 2016. Alex reconnected with Reed when he met former President Colin Diver, who persuaded him to join Reed’s board of trustees.

Married to Kathy for nearly 40 years, Alex credits her for encouraging him to serve as a trustee. She helped him recognize how much Reed means to him, even if he got his degree from another school. “She said to me, ‘Ever since we’ve been together, you’ve talked about Reed. It’s obviously very important to you.’”

With this gift, the Martinezes are helping a new generation of students continue the fight.

“I’m profoundly grateful for Alex and Kathy’s leadership on social justice,” says President Audrey Bilger. “I came to Reed because the college is committed to becoming an ever more inclusive community, including putting into practice the goals and aspirations reflected in our diversity and anti-racism statements. Alex and Kathy’s gift is a wonderful example of one of Reed’s defining characteristics—a commitment to the community.”

Tags: Alumni, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Giving Back to Reed, Institutional