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Remembering Ricardo Martinez

Editor’s note: Longtime Denver community activist and youth advocate Ricardo Martinez died last week after a brief illness.

We grieve the eternal promotion of another community servant, Ricardo Martinez, who with his wife Pam, built the powerful coalition Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, known today as Movimiento Poder.

Ricardo lived to lift lives and led the way in bringing down structures and systems of oppression, wherever they were. Through the years he empowered Denver families to fight discrimination, improve college and health care access, promote bilingual education and begin to end the school to prison pipeline.

What an honor to have been in the trenches with him. Ricardo was a brother and I always knew that my liberation was equally important to him. There was not a Black liberation or Brown liberation, it was our liberation. That was the work. That was the beat of our collective heart.

Years ago we attended an event in support of the DREAM Act and the DREAMERS in our schools. I was delivering remarks along with other pastors, educators, and leaders and wanted to deliver my message in Spanish as well as English. I was practicing in a corner and Ricardo heard me and graciously helped me to correct my tenses. He knew that I wanted the words in my heart to come through clearly for the students in their native tongue.

When I was a school leader at Manual High School, Ricardo was always a phone call away if there were any students, especially Latino young men, who needed some extra encouragement and fresh perspective. He would help connect them to their history, help them see the lineage from which they came, and the responsibility they had to continue forward. Ricardo loved students and was there for them, but more powerfully, he was with them, appreciating and amplifying their voices at every turn.

He instilled in me the value of being a part of the lives of students’ families.  Even though we may not have come up with the same traditions, we could sit down over a bowl of menudo and talk about the potential of education and change the world.

Through his work at Padres, Ricardo shined a powerful light on the injustice of the alarming rate at which Black and Brown students were being pushed out of traditional schools and referred to law enforcement. Persevering over many years in their efforts to end the criminalization of students, Ricardo and Pam’s work with Padres were acts of love to restore the humanity of people whose humanity was questioned by design.

Ricardo Martinez was a remarkable advocate with a legacy of achievement that earned him and Pam, and Padres y Jóvenes Unidos national attention.  They were engaged and effective in dealing with people in power, but they were never ‘bought’ and never compromised who they were. Ricardo did whatever he could to maintain relationships because that is where dialogue happened and transformation began.

Ricardo knew the responsibility passed to him from our elders and ancestors. He was faithful to it and simultaneously true to preparing the next generation to carry the work further and faster. He kept the adults in the room honest, focused on children, and would call out hypocrisy in his way; a way that challenged your soul but never demeaned your humanity. He understood that even in disagreement we were still bound to one another, our destinies still woven together. May we continue forward, with the baton firmly in our hands, to see the work fulfilled.

Thank you Ricardo. Prayers for Pam, their family, and all who loved Ricardo. Rest In Power!