Demond T. Martin ’97 awarded honorary Doctor of Public Service

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Demond T. Martin ’97 believes, “It is my duty to help in every way I possibly can, as many people as I possibly can, for as long as I possibly can.”

This internal motivation drives Martin to seek, build and improve community. Not only during his years on UNC Charlotte’s campus, but serving as assistant to the White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, attending Harvard Business School and in his current community, Boston, Massachusetts.

Throughout the quarter-century since his graduation, Martin has achieved national stature as a savvy investment manager and committed philanthropist. At this year’s Spring Commencement, he was commended for his philanthropic contributions and community service with an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.

The honor, the highest the University can award, “reflects upon the extraordinary contributions of a very special individual, and this one is very, very, very well-deserved,” said Dontá Wilson ’97, chief retail and small business banking officer for Truist and a member of the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees, the University’s governing body that grants the honor on behalf of the institution. “Demond Martin has distinguished himself as a leader committed to bettering the lives of those around him through inclusiveness and connectivity. His efforts are particularly focused on supporting underrepresented and underserved youth.”

Now CEO and founder of Wellwithall, a purpose-led health and wellness brand with the mission to fight health inequities in Black, Brown and underserved communities, Martin, along with his wife Kia Martin ’98, focuses efforts in areas where the couple can make a positive impact to achieve the greatest societal benefit.

‘Where you start is not where you finish’

“I have experienced poverty and the fear that comes from living in unsafe environments with inferior schools and health care,” said Martin. “I’ve also benefited from extraordinary opportunities, along with some good fortune, that places me in a position to impact others in similar circumstances I shared not so long ago.”

At the May 13 commencement ceremony, Martin expounded upon his life journey, telling the audience of overcoming hardships: being fearful of losing his life to violence and witnessing family members struggle with alcohol and drug addictions, and watching poor Black and Brown people mistreated in crowded ERs and underfunded schools.

“Where you start is not where you finish,” he said. “We are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness and despair … We pour out our hearts to anyone struggling with mental illness, depression, anxiety, suicidality. Anyone who is thinking the world is better off without you — you’re wrong. We need your empathy, creativity, humor and brilliance.”

Martin’s new venture, Wellwithall, will use a portion of its profits to fuel programs that fight health inequity within Black, Brown and underserved communities — through education, support and access.

Investor Phill Gross, a Martin mentor, provides inspiration. He describes Gross’ approach to philanthropy as possessing real intellectual rigor, which Martin emulates. This is similar to how a venture capitalist contemplates investing in a company, explained Martin, who works with organizations to bring expertise to bear in an effort to encourage others to support charitable endeavors.

“It’s much like developing proof of concept,” Martin explained. “I want to help organizations build confidence in their missions so others will join.”

Unveiling a gift to Boston and the world

The EmbraceEarlier this year, in Boston, Martin spoke at the unveiling of “The Embrace,” a sculpture honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The piece was inspired by a 1964 photo of the Kings embracing following news of Dr. King being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

What Martin thought would be a quick project became a nearly six-year effort. “Kia and I were honored to play a small part, particularly by giving when others were reluctant. But to see how this idea progressed and was unveiled to the world — to witness its reception and play a vital role was a huge honor.”

Speaking at the Jan. 13 unveiling, Martin stated, “There could be no better love to put on display for the entire world to see than the love the Kings had for each other. It is not just the love of a couple, but it is a show of love for humanity.”

Donating to improve the human condition

At “The Embrace” dedication Martin emphasized society can no longer ignore the human condition. Quoting the late civil rights leader, Martin said, “The poor in our country have been shut out of our minds and been driven out of the mainstream of society because we have allowed them to be invisible.”

Six decades later, the same is true, said Martin. “For too long, our fellow men and women proceed as if we’re in a zero-sum game — heads you win, tails I lose.”

However, Martin believes his contributions of time and money, investing in organizations and people, will deliver significant returns that benefit society over time.

Supporting UNC Charlotte, his alma mater

At Charlotte, Martin has provided financial support for the University Transition Opportunities Program, founded by his mentor Herman Thomas, who challenged him to become a person of consequence.

The Martins also established the Martin Scholars Program in 2016. One of the University’s leading merit scholarship programs, it is housed in the Honors College.

Martin credits his alma mater for providing extraordinary access combined with outstanding leadership and networking opportunities that transformed his life’s journey, starting with meeting his wife, Kia. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Martin would later spend his formative years in California and then near Mocksville, North Carolina, before enrolling at UNC Charlotte.

Embracing all the campus offered, Martin joined the Mu Tau chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and would serve as chapter president. In 1994, he was elected student body president as a sophomore, which was unprecedented at the time. He would go on to win numerous awards and distinctions prior to completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1997.

Martin is a recipient of the UNC Charlotte Alumni Association’s Outstanding Young Alumnus (2010) and Distinguished Alumnus awards (2021), and in 2016, the Student Union was named for him and alumna Karen Popp ’80, a fellow student leader.

“We should never forget the place that helped forge our foundations,” said Martin. “We want to help build and preserve UNC Charlotte, so that the others that follow will embrace the challenges society faces and work together to fix them so we all can prosper. Our futures depend upon new generations of Charlotte leaders.”

Demond Martin with Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber