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Inspiring Conversations with Justin Martinez of Leg Up LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Martinez.

Hi Justin, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I am a 22 years old athlete, artist, and organizer out of NorthEast Los Angeles. I was born to a Filipino Mom who came to Los Angeles in the 90s and a Mexican father who arrived in the 60s. My entire childhood took place in Eagle Rock, where I grew up in the presence of seven siblings. In my early adolescence, I was a bigger kid who was very timid but had found the outlet of sports to garner more confidence and trust in myself. Upon my entry to Eagle Rock High School, I had started to play football. Though I wasn’t very good at it initially, the incredibly supportive and competitive group of friends that I had pushed me until I was one of the best Defensive Linemen in Los Angeles. When thinking back to my thought processes during this time, I had always known that I had wanted to make a positive impact on the communities most near and dear to my heart and sought greatness in football so that one day I could use the status as a platform for good.

After high school, I was then granted a spot on the Occidental College Football Team and was able to serve as a freshman captain and starter. Growing up, I had always had this predisposition about people from the College, given its disconnect from the community I’d grown up in. Upon my exposure to it, it had revealed the true disparity between that of people in more affluent communities and that which I had grown up with. The experience made me more grateful for the culture and the experiences unique to growing up in NELA, but moreso helped me recognize how paramount it is to be compassionate to those undergoing tough times as a result of systemic oppression. Throughout my whole life, themes of deprivation and houselessness were prevalent, as my parents tried their best to maintain a household of six people in a rapidly gentrifying area. This was in the company of the fact that some of my brothers had extensive experience with houselessness and the criminal justice system and were able to expose lessons that no money could buy, to me and my other siblings.

During my second year of college, where I had broken my wrist and had much more time away from football-oriented activities(I still played). I found myself in a rut, unable to perform the way I wanted to and had found the outlet of tattooing to fill the void left by my fiery passion for football during this time. Most importantly, during that year I was able to find the pathway I had wanted to pursue with the passions garnered through my life experiences thus far and had founded the non-profit organization Leg Up Los Angeles. Today, I am a freshly graduated politics major, I live with some of my best friends and my dog Boss, I still tattoo and play football, and Leg Up Los Angeles has assisted over 18,000 people through need-based distribution events.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Though my peers assume a lot of the time that these things came easy to me, the path to these things that I am so grateful for was far from a smooth road. It took a lot of hard work, maneuvering through new spaces, and obstacles whose solutions were inaccessible for people who weren’t from a typical Occidental College background. Though I can talk all day about the adverse experiences that I had growing up, I would not be the man I am today without the sacrifices made by my parents. My mother Mariah Grace Martinez came to the United States in 1999, and my father Manuel Martinez came to the United States during the 1960s. During their time in the United States, they faced their own obstacles and hindrances to socioeconomic attainment as immigrants from Mexico and Philippines. Whether it was time away from their families, maneuvering through inaccessible spaces, or dealing with implications of immigration policy, they managed to devote their lives to others more than the intense things they were experiencing on their own. No matter how difficult the times became, they continued to push through and manage to support my siblings and I in whatever ways they could. It is for these reasons that I say that my parents are my heroes, and no matter what struggles I face, I always prevail because I have had them to continue to inspire and push me to be strong, compassionate, and attentive every single day.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Leg Up LA?
Throughout my whole life, I had always had intense feelings for people experiencing houselessness and wished there were more accessible ways for me to assist the communities that need it. These feelings had grown upon my entry to college, as I was able to learn more about the structure of local governance and policy and the steps that could be taken to combat these issues. I founded Leg Up LA when I was 19 initially as a community non-profit that had solely need-based distributions with physical donations from other people. Throughout the years, our vision for Leg Up has evolved drastically. Today we are a 501c3 Non-Profit Organization that aims to spread awareness around the implications of the anti-houseless rhetoric that the City of Los Angeles seems to exhibit today. We intend to create a humanizing culture that centers itself around being compassionate for those experiencing houselessness, which are broadcasted through the forms of videos, infographics, and news posts.

Along with this, we have need-based distributions 2-3 times a month, where we distribute clothing, food, or other necessities to 100-1000 people per event. We have been having these types of events since Leg Up’s inception, which has guided us to have over 18,000 moments of assistance in the LA area. Lastly and most importantly, as we continue to grow, we have shifted our approach to having both short-term and long-term solutions of assistance. Within the next 3-5 years, we have initiatives to establish several community centers and housing centers throughout all regions of the Los Angeles area. Given the current political climate towards these issues, especially with the rapid rates of gentrification and the introduction of historically harmful entities to Los Angeles such as that of 2028 Olympics, we anticipate that our houseless neighbors will need the assistance and mobilizations more than ever during this next decade.

Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Special thanks to all of my friends and family for believing in me when I couldn’t find it in me to believe in myself. If you think that this is directed towards you, it probably is. These accolades mean nothing without the people that continue to inspire and push me every day! This is just the beginning.

For more details about who we are and what we do, reach out to us on any of our several social media platforms or email us at

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Image Credits

Portraits by @uroborosarchive

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