by Nancy Winckler-Zuniga, originally published in the Florida-Times Union and Jacksonville.com
Jada Martin’s mom wanted her to see the world beyond Jacksonville, and she moved Martin and her sisters to Memphis, Tenn., where she enrolled them in exceptional schools that set the tone for their education.
“My mom drilled in me ‘Do well in school,’” Martin said.
Tears swelled up in her eyes as she described the turn of events that brought Martin back to Jacksonville when she was 12. Her mom’s lung cancer had resurfaced — this time, the illness that had originally struck while pregnant with Martin took the mother’s life. In the midst of loss and confusion, Martin remembers her grandmother coming to Tennessee to pack her and her sisters’ things for the long journey home.
Her grandmother was on the culinary staff at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church and made sure that Martin and her sisters became part of the church community.
“My grandmother was one of those women who could make a three-course meal out of a skillet and a pot. Her hands could create works of art,” said Martin as she remembered the culinary feats of the woman who had stepped up to raise her. “Sometimes, her combinations were weird, but the spaghetti was my favorite. Her meatballs would melt in your mouth and the sauce would be all over your face.”
Her grandmother introduced her to church friends who became mentors. Their mentoring became crucial as Martin faced her grandmother’s passing and had to move once again, this time to live with her aunt. Close to her relatives and grateful for the help and guidance they provided, Martin also credits the efforts of one church family, the Sasburys, for keeping her focused on her own potential and the good she could do.
And that good has no bounds. Because of the vast support she received, she was inspired to give back. After meeting with United Way’s coordinator of full-service schools, Martin became the youngest member of the Englewood Full Service Schools Oversight Committee. She is the student government president, captain of the band’s flag team, a member of the Student Honor Society, on the Jacksonville Association of Governing Students, an intern in the front office of Englewood, a preschool teacher after school and a mentor to other students.
She is a leader both in her school and in the city. Recognized as the winner of the high school division of Tomorrow’s Leaders Award, Martin read her essay during Jacksonville Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast. More than 2,000 guests were inspired by her words and actions.
Martin knows her mom would be proud. While her mother’s death set off a chain of loss, it also connected her to many other caring adults who helped guide her through challenging times. It is that support that motivates Jada to step up for others and fuels her aspirations to become a pediatrician.