Martinez, California High School Senior is Among 12 Winners of ACLU College Scholarship for Youth Activism

May 23, 2001 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO – – The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California today announced that Gabriel Martinez of Alhambra High School is one of 12 seniors nationwide to be awarded a $4,000 college scholarship in recognition of his exceptional contributions to the struggle to defend civil liberties.

a educate minors about civil rights by planning youth rights conferences and investigative field trips for young activists.

“”He is an amazing teacher,”” said Project Director Nancy Otto. “”He would always patiently offer his point of view, and allow other students the dignity to differ with his opinion.””

While earning top grades at his school, Gabe also served on the ACLU’s Youth Advisory Committee, volunteered his time to work on ACLU campaigns, and served as president of his school’s ACLU Club.

“My involvement with the ACLU does not stop when the official ACLU events and meetings do,” said Martinez. “I am a strong believer in the power of activism in effecting social change, therefore I frequently go to protests, rallies and death-row vigils. The fight for justice cannot stop at my education of concepts; it is essential that I apply what I learn to my actions.”

In a Spring 2000 election, California voters passed Proposition 21, a youth crime initiative that doled out severe punishments to minors who commit violent crimes and took the power of sentencing youth away from the judges and placed it in the hands of prosecuting attorneys.

The ACLU actively engaged its network of youth activists, including Gabe, to educate the public about the dangers of Prop. 21. Using the youth conferences as a vehicle to educate people, Gabe planned and facilitated debates and skits about Prop. 21 at the Spring conference. He also participated in a grassroots campaign to defeat the bill by leafleting in San Francisco, making appearances on radio talk shows and writing letters to newspapers.

“”Although we ultimately were defeated by an overwhelming majority of votes in California,”” said Martinez, “”I learned a lot about the democratic process. As a young person, I was empowered by the experience of having my voice heard. Being a significant part in a political movement made me feel, at least in part, successful in this endeavor.””

Earlier this month, Gabe led several hundred students in a walkout protesting the school superintendent’s firing of their principal without telling the students why. As well as being a model youth activist, Gabe is a committed scholar. He is an honor roll student and takes many Advanced Placement courses. He will be attending Stanford University in the Fall.

This year’s other recipients hail from Southern California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Many of the students selected stood up for the rights of their peers by challenging the injustices inflicted upon them by school officials; created an ACLU chapter at their school; or interned at the ACLU affiliate office in their state. In 2000, the first year of the program, the ACLU awarded scholarships to eight high school seniors.

“”The ACLU’s College Scholarship for Youth Activism Award gives us an opportunity to recognize the courage of students like Gabe and the example they set for their peers,”” said Nadine Strossen, President of the National ACLU. “”It truly is an honor to be able to provide these intelligent, resourceful and committed young people with support for their education.””

To learn about the other winners, please visit our web feature at

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