Yeni Martinez with family & friends on move-in day
It was a dream come true for incoming freshman Yeni Martinez and her family when she arrived on the Tennessee campus for Johnson University’s Genesis weekend, August 21, 2015. It was also an historic moment for the University, since Yeni is the first participant in Johnson’s new Urban Scholars Program. As an urban scholar, Yeni is receiving special financial assistance from the Alec H. Woodhull Scholarship Fund that was recently launched to help identify and empower a select number of high school graduates from Knoxville’s urban communities.
In Yeni’s case, it was a difficult journey that began in Honduras and included a very special Spanish teacher at Central High School in Knoxville—Johnson alumna Myrna DaSilva—who was attentive to Yeni’s abilities and aspirations:
Yeni Flores Martinez with her daughter Yeni, Johnson University's first urban scholar
"When I met Yeni Martinez and saw the worried look on her face, thinking about what college she might be able to attend—because of her financial situation and coming from an immigrant family myself—I totally understood her struggles and the challenges her parents had to overcome to make it in a new country and a new culture....And I immediately thought about Ashley Johnson's words: ‘Open day and night to the poor young man (or woman!) who desires above every other desire, to preach the Gospel of Christ.’
Yeni’s passion for a Christian education at the university level was also evident to her Young Life leader at Central High School, Nicole Harris: “When I think of Yeni Martinez, I think of someone who doesn’t give up on her dreams. She is a fighter. She is strong and determined, and when things get hard, she just gets back up and keeps on trying. During her junior year, she explained to me her family circumstances, which undoubtedly would make it incredibly difficult for her to get into college, let alone pay for college. Despite this, the only thing she wanted to do was attend college to become an ESL teacher.”
Abiding thanks goes to those who are now investing in Johnson University’s Urban Scholars Program and to those like Myrna and Nicole who are willing to imagine a preferred future for eager—but sometimes overlooked—young people in urban Knoxville.
Author Kenny Woodhull is a professor in the School of Business and Public Leadership and director of Johnson’s Urban Alliance initiative.
To help Yeni and other Urban Scholars, designate your gift to the Alec H. Woodhull Scholarship Fund. Checks can be mailed to Johnson University, 7900 Johnson Dr., Knoxville, TN 37998.