When you work in public education, you meet a lot of people who are living their lives with purpose – the purpose of improving schools, of educating the children who will become our future workforce, of elevating and celebrating the incredible educators in Duval. But I can say that in the short time I have been around, I have never met anyone who lives a life of purpose the way that Dr. Maira Martelo, Ed.D. and Director of Community Mobilization here at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund does. For her contributions to the Jacksonville Hispanic community, Martelo will be honored by the Jacksonville Jaguars during this Sunday’s home opener against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 17 as the recipient of the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award. And it is our opinion at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund that the honor is well-deserved.
Here is an example: one day we were walking together to the parking garage and an African American man with an old, grey cap and a worn, orange vest stopped us as we were passing the bus stop. His face broke into a huge smile as Martelo gave him a hard time about continuing to smoke cigarettes even though they were bad for him. As we approached the elevator, I asked her who that man was. She told me that he is someone who has overcome many challenges and seen times of great success and of great loss. She did not go into specific details about his life, and I did not ask. But the fact that she made the time every day to speak to this stranger at the bus stop and to give him advice is a testament to the kind of person Martelo is. The more I worked with her, the more I came to realize that this small kindness not a unique event, but a defining characteristic of who she is: Martelo is a connector, bringing people together, and building relationships that form the critical component of positive change.
Originally from Colombia, South America, Martelo has been living in Jacksonville for the past twelve years and has more than 12 years of teaching experience as a college professor in Colombia, Mexico and the United States. She also has worked as a research consultant in Colombia and Mexico, evaluating several programs that involved community engagement. Her experience as a contributing writer for Hola Noticias, the local Hispanic newspaper, as well as her engagement in several Hispanic organizations have allowed her to closely get to know the Hispanic community.
She has served as a board member of the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and has chaired the “Achieving The Dream Scholarship” for Hispanic students. Maira mentors high school students who are pursuing their college education and also volunteers with the Refugee Program at Catholic Charities.
Martelo holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of North Florida and her dissertation focused on early literacy practices at home and beliefs about education among the Hispanic community in Jacksonville. Based on the results of her dissertation, Duval County Public Schools created the first bilingual Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (VPK) at West Riverside Elementary School.
“As the 2017 recipient of the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award, Maira Martelo represents the best in our country and someone whose diversity makes us better as a nation. Leading by example, she has immersed herself in her adopted country to be engaged in the community on many levels. Her passion for education is shared by Jaguars owner Shad Khan, also an immigrant to the United States, who came to this county to pursue his studies,” Peter Racine, Jaguars Foundation Senior Vice President of the Jaguars Foundation and Community Impact, said.
Throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, fans can visit www.NFL.com/HispanicHeritage for a look at the personal stories of Hispanic players, past and present, who have left a lasting legacy on the NFL. NFL teams will enhance the celebration with local efforts throughout the month including local community outreach in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.