Purpose in Parallel

For more than 30 years, Kia Martin ’98 has built upon shared values with her husband Demond to strengthen Black and Brown communities, create opportunities for others and lead a purposeful life.  

BY Michael J. Solender

The Winston-Salem native, raised solely by her mother, was motivated to pursue higher education because she always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. Upon her acceptance at UNC Charlotte she was especially attracted by the University Transition Opportunities Program. The six-week summer collegiate experience fast-tracks incoming freshmen to build relationships with their peers, faculty and advisors; gain exposure to campus resources; and develop study and college survival skills.

Martin’s participation in the program would end up changing the course of her life in ways she couldn’t have possibly predicted. Martin’s UTOP counselor was her future husband, Demond Martin ’97. Kia and Demond’s relationship was built on a foundation of encouraging each other when times get hard and cheering for each other to achieve success. Demond motivated Kia to focus on her studies when she was not doing so well in her math class.

“Demond became my math tutor. We didn't start dating until after the program, but he was instrumental in my passing that class,” Martin said. “As soon as we went home after the program, we had our first date at Pizza Hut, and we have been together since."

Core values of faith, family, service and purpose serve as the bond that after 31 years together forge a partnership where strengthening communities and giving back are central to their life’s work.

Martin has been a tireless advocate for creating inclusive and equitable learning environments for underrepresented students. As an educator, she has taught fourth grade at Paw Creek Elementary in Charlotte, second grade at an elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and as a college professor at Wheelock College, Simmons College and Lesley University. While at Harvard, she supervised reading specialists and was the coordinator of the Jeanne Chall Reading Lab. She currently uses her expertise in multicultural literacy to assist schools with developing culturally relevant strategies and programs for teacher professional development. 

With her husband, Demond, she is active in philanthropy work that is dedicated to erasing education and health care gaps created by racial and social injustice in Black and Brown communities.

UNC Charlotte recently spoke with Martin about this work, the impact of a supportive family and her strong relationship with the University, and her commitment to give back.

Connection to UNC Charlotte: 

“There are so many faculty and staff members at Charlotte who poured into us. From the day we stepped on campus Dr. Herman Thomas, co-founder of the UTOP program, gave up his time, whatever he could do for us, he did it and still does to this day. 

“I could spend all day listing names of people like Chuck Lynch, former vice chancellor for student affairs; and both chancellors Woodward and Dubois, who all always did whatever they could do to help us become the leaders we are. They didn’t just focus on our roles on campus but they invited us into their homes for dinner. They brought us with them to many events and meetings in the city.

“They introduced us to so many people; the exposure we got because of the staff at UNC Charlotte, we wouldn't have gotten anywhere else.

 “As students, whatever we could be engaged in and be involved in, we were. Demond becomes student body president. I'm Black Student Union president. He is joining Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; I'm joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. We both were in the emerging leaders program. And through those organizations, that's where we did community service. That's where we learned a lot of leadership skills that we still use today.

“I feel that the Charlotte family is just everything to us. We were deeply connected as students and are committed to staying connected to the place that we call our first home.”

Her role in philanthropic work: 

“There are two major values that drive our philanthropic work. A big priority for me is to be hands-on and engaged in the philanthropic partnerships that we form. That's key and crucial and important for my role. I don't just want to give money and not know, connect with or engage with the people that we are supporting. Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, says there's ‘power of proximity,’ and I firmly believe that. It gives me so much joy to come back to campus and spend time with the Martin Scholars. We created a tradition for me to join the Martin Scholars for yearly book discussion via Zoom. 

“Demond and I look at what we can do to make life better for Black and Brown communities. It's always been our focus. It will always be our focus. We believe that our marriage strengthens our individual voices to make an even greater impact in our community. 

“Sometimes people say, ‘You did what?’ And we're like, “Yes, we did.” It is not about us. We have had people who have done unthinkable things for us. We truly believe that we have been blessed to be a blessing to as many people as possible. In particular for the next generation of leaders. We both spend a lot of time mentoring young people to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there. I hope and pray that someone will hear our story and know that they too can give back to make life better for someone else. 

“I feel like you must have a person who is willing to pick you up, who's willing to pull you up, who's willing to lift you and put you into place if you don't want to be there. And that's how we talk to young people. We're like, no, you must go out. You must reach out if the opportunity's there, and even if it's not there, go look for it because it's possible."

Michael J. Solender is a features writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.