When Christina Martinez was a 15-year-old student at Incarnate Word High School, she had a goal: to be the CEO of a big company and make money. The bright daughter of two teachers, she had opportunity and ambition.

Living in a suburban neighborhood on the Southeast side of San Antonio, she kept to what she describes as her “bubble.” Then, one of her classmates invited her to a St. Patrick’s Day party that would double as a birthday party for the friend’s mom.

Martinez asked her parents if she could go, and told them where the party was: on the near Westside at Guadalupe Avenue and Brazos Street. Her parents were hesitant, suspicious of a part of town they heard about on the news, wary of inner-city dangers. They said yes, though, and Martinez went to the party.

When she arrived, she met the guest of honor, her friend’s mother: Patti Radle.

Francisco Gónima (left) welcomes Christina Martinez (center) and Patti Radle in front of a large crowd at Excel Beyond the Bell SA.
Francisco Gónima (left) welcomes Christina Martinez (center) and Patti Radle in front of a large crowd at Excel Beyond the Bell SA. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

She learned that Radle and her husband, Rod, were community organizers with Inner City Development, a nonprofit organization devoted to the community around the Alazan-Apache Courts in the poorest zip code in the city. Martinez was intrigued.

“Who did that kind of work?” Martinez asked herself. “On top of that, who was this Anglo person living in the heart of the Westside?”

She observed Radle over the next few years. She asked questions about community service and what motivated the family to persist in an area where the effects of poverty ran deep. Radle’s answer, “wholehearted love,” took root in Martinez.

More than 20 years later, in March, Martinez was appointed to fill the District 6 position on the San Antonio Independent School District board following the resignation of Olga Hernandez. The discussion swirling around the appointment seemed to pit a longtime resident of the neighborhood supported by Hernandez against a young “newcomer” backed by district reformers. Other candidates, including Martinez, did not attract much attention.

Christina Martinez has been selected the San Antonio ISD District 6 Board Trustee.
Christina Martinez is the new San Antonio ISD District 6 Board Trustee. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Martinez quietly filed her paperwork and stood with six other candidates before the board in an interview session at its March 27 meeting. When the board asked for her priorities, Martinez answered “parental engagement and support” and “engagement with out-of-school-time providers.”

Martinez won the appointment, a decision announced by one of her lifetime role models, Board President Patti Radle. 

Last week, Martinez and Radle sat next to one another on stage at the Oblate School of Theology as the final speakers at the Excel Beyond the Bell annual summit. Excel Beyond the Bell is a coalition of out-of-school programs working together to serve students in Bexar County.

Martinez is now vice president of external relations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas. She previously worked for nonprofit organizations such as San Antonio Youth Literacy and the Girl Scouts for more than 10 years.

Radle has been the volunteer director of Inner City Development since 1972 when it was the Inner City Apostolate. She served on City Council from 2003 to 2007. Radle has become one of the city’s leading voices for non-violence and economic justice. She has been on the SAISD school board since 2011.

Summit organizers invited Martinez and Radle to speak on integrity and its role in educational leadership.

“Integrity is doing the right thing at the right time, but also knowing when that right time is,” Radle said.

Working on the school board, Martinez said she has learned a lot about seizing those “right time” opportunities. As the SAISD board has pursued an ambitious change agenda with Superintendent Pedro Martinez, harmonious decision making is critical, she said. She has been grateful for the other board members who have brought her up to speed on everything from reviewing contracts to weighing the merits of various academic initiatives. 

“I had no idea what it meant to be a school board member, but I do now,” Martinez said.

The reason for the board’s harmony, Radle and Martinez explained, is the shared priority of doing what is best for the children of SAISD. That communal sharing of responsibility is another way to maintain integrity, Radle said. It spreads the burden so that making tough choices is a little easier.

“What I really do is just hang around good people,” Radle said, “then good things happen and I’m guilty by association.”

As an individual and within organizations, what matters most is not only integrity itself, but what you have integrity to do, Radle said. “A solid value makes every [decision] easier.”

At Inner City Development, Radle explained, every decision must fulfill its core value: What is the most loving thing to do? “Whatever the answer is, that’s the right thing to do,” she said. 

When a group of immigrants were dropped into the community and in need of a place to stay, the logistics were overwhelming for the board of Inner City Development. However, it was clear to Radle that finding a way to shelter the immigrants would be the most loving thing to do. So the group worked until it found a way.

Values also need to be “whole,” Radle said. Values should move society, community, and in this case the school district forward, and they should guide leaders at all times, not just when they are seated at the dais or the CEO’s desk.

“You have to ask, ‘Am I keeping myself whole?’” Radle said.

Martinez asked Radle how she has kept herself whole throughout her career in public service. Radle then shared the poem, written by Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe, that she kept hanging at her desk while she was on City Council:

Nothing is more practical than

finding God, than

falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.