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Mission kid nearly misses full ride to Princeton because gentrification

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Sergio Martinez Jr. is the first person in his family to attend college. Born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District and having graduated from University High School, he now attends Princeton University on a full academic scholarship. But attending one of the best universities in the country was something he almost decided against.

Sergio’s family and my family are neighbors, we have been for 15 years. When the owner of our building decided to sell, Sergio’s family successfully worked with MEDA (Mission Economic Development Agency) to find a solution.

Sergio Jr. nearly turned down going to Princeton because of the real possibility of experiencing personal hardship due to an insane housing market, caused by the occupying of San Francisco by tech moneymakers. Thankfully, San Francisco takes care of its own.

When I drive through San Francisco I see the homeless. It’s an awful situation in this city. The reality of homelessness is always visually present here. And one young man, who seems to turn everything he touches into gold, is committed to continuing the tradition of people looking after people, sharing knowledge and resources for collective health and wellness.

Sergio Martinez Jr. poses outside of his family home in San Francisco on Jan. 4, 2018. Photo: Adelyna Tirado

Sergio Martinez Jr., comes from immigrant parents. I have witnessed his father, Sergio Martinez Sr., go to work to lay carpet, and he’s usually the first one I hear exiting our building in the mornings. Sergio is the type of man that you can depend on and in the time we’ve been neighbors, we have never had a bad exchange. Moreover, I have never heard one neighbor say a bad word about this man. He is a father, a husband and in my opinion, a very good man.

Sergio’s children grew up playing together with my children. His children are respectful and confident teens, and his wife is a very kind woman who I would trust with my own children without a second thought. Sergio Sr. is from Mexico and his wife Ana is from Peru. However, his children, like my children, are San Francisco Mission kids—born and raised in el barrio. His twin daughters—articulate, vegan, bicyclists—both attend one of the best private high schools in the city.

Sergio Jr., like myself, and everyone else in our building, thought we were going to be evicted, and he was willing to forego his opportunity so that he could stay with his family to make sure everything would be OK.

Fortunately, things are okay but only for one reason: Sergio Sr. worked with MEDA to ensure we all had a home. Not only did we not have to move, MEDA bought our home, and did not raise our rent at all.

Even as I write this, I feel emotional and even angry remembering the stress caused by the threat of eviction. I’m writing this to express my family’s gratitude to the Martinez family and MEDA.

And while Sergio Jr. is at his first year at Princeton, my eldest daughter also just started her first year at Temple University in Philadelphia. She, like Sergio Jr., is also attending school on full academic scholarship.

Two kids from the Mission. One Black, one brown, one male, one female. Both children of working-class Mission District families. Both attending two of the best universities in the world.

Two teenagers raised in a neighborhood notorious for gang violence, who managed to avoid all the bad in the streets of San Francisco. Two teenagers now living their dreams. Two teenagers, who almost lost everything due to the insane greed of property developers in San Francisco.  Two kids living their own bold versions of the American Dream and only because fathers like Sergio and I, and organizations like MEDA and El Tecolote, refuse to let their dreams die! Viva La Raza. Black and Brown unity forever. Siempre Venceremos!

Story by: Jason Brown