BU Student Uses Her Voice as a Force for Change
Elexis Martinez is finding her voice and using it as a force for good -- and for change.
Recently, she’s spoken on the radio and given public remarks in front of the Nebraska Legislature Judiciary Committee and Urban League of Nebraska, advocating for robust education and diversity initiatives in schools, mental health screenings for police, and proper public defender funding.
The Omaha native is also a community columnist for the World-Herald. Her first article addressed the city’s geographical divisions, calling citizens to build bonds outside the boundaries of their own neighborhoods.
“I’ve been told that my voice is powerful,” says Martinez, 23, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s in business administration. “I like to stand together with people in solidarity for a cause.”
Compelled by her empathy and conviction that hate will never win, the BU graduate student and basketball player shares more about her background and advocacy for racial equality.
“I’m somebody who wants to reach out and bring the community together,” Martinez says.
What do you want people to know about you?
I grew up in North Omaha. I’m a Central High School grad and served as senior class president in 2015. I came to Bellevue University to be part of the first-ever women’s basketball program. My coaches are amazing. I just finished my business degree. I’m interning at a local company and still deciding on my master’s program.
I have two teenage sisters. I’m a youth basketball coach. I get to coach my 14-year-old sister. I also love swimming. And I’m the cook of our house. (Her speciality: grilled chicken with beans and yams, plus classic Toll House chocolate chip cookies for dessert.)
How do you identify in terms of your ethnicity? What does your heritage mean to you?
I identify as black, Hispanic, and white. Growing up, because of my last name, everybody thought I was Mexican. They didn’t understand why my hair looked the way it did. So I’d explain it to people. My dad is Panamanian. He played basketball professionally for his country. My ancestors are from Barbados and Jamaica. My mom’s side is white, tracing back to Germany and Ireland.
To know where I came from, my culture and background, it means a lot to me. I ask tons of questions and enjoy long conversations with my grandma, who’s in Panama. My sisters and I are grateful we’ve had so many different cultures to combine and make our own.
What are some of your experiences related to race?
I grew up in a fairly diverse neighborhood and visited family in different parts of the city. I never felt like I wasn’t included. I never felt unwelcomed. I played with the white girls in my neighborhood. I played with the black girls in the other neighborhood. I never looked at myself as different, except my hair. I wanted straight hair! But now I love my hair. I never knew there was a problem. At Bellevue University, I’ve always felt included. It’s diverse, and I love that.
It wasn’t until I was protesting. I protested on 72nd & Dodge and felt like there was a lot of support there -- white, black, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, middle class. I loved seeing that. For me that builds trust. When we went to 175th & Center, I noticed more confrontation and animosity. It just made me sad that some people have hate in their hearts. I see these videos, and it breaks my heart. That could have been my dad or my friend or my cousin. So I believe that things need to change. We’re saying that black lives matter, and to me that’s not controversial.
What are you doing to advocate for racial equality? What would you recommend others do to get involved?
My role is to have conversations and build trust with people who don’t understand. I love to educate myself. I recommend others get involved by talking to their families. Stand up for what is right. Attend events that are outside of your community. Come out and get to know one another. I also encourage people to protest. I encourage people to write letters. I encourage people to use the voice they have. It’s powerful.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hope is that we as a community and as America figure out how to come together. I’m never going to give up hope. I feel like I see small strides. The protests aren’t being ignored. It might take a while, but I am hopeful that we will make progress. People have a lot of pain. As humans, we tend to put people in boxes. Not all cops are bad. Not all black people are criminals. Not all white people are racists. So let’s break those barriers and boxes and chains and come together as a community. We can’t drive out hate with hate. Love is going to drive out hate.
This is the time to work and learn together. We are proud of all the ways that Bellevue University students, faculty and staff are using their voices, their time and their talents to serve the community and stand together against hate, injustice and oppression.