Senior Martin brings a close to Grady family dynasty


Reilly Blum

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For senior Jefferson Martin, Grady is more than just a school. It’s part of his identity.

“[Grady] has kind of been my entire life,” Jefferson said. “I’ve had a brick out in the courtyard since I was in like sixth grade.”

Over the past 30 years, nine of his siblings and cousins have graduated from Grady. Jefferson’s graduation later this May marks the end of the long line of Grady Martins.

Morgan Martin Walters, who graduated in 1988, is the first of the Martins to attend Grady. She remembers a school with no air conditioning and a fledgling communications magnet program.

“It was not a destination school like it is today,” Morgan said. “The communications magnet program had just started, so people in the neighborhood were just starting to go to Grady.”

Morgan soon realized, however, that choosing Grady was the right decision. The school’s passionate teachers and eclectic community made high school a transformative experience for her. Morgan believes that her time at Grady influenced her many siblings and cousins to attend the school.

“My parents and my uncles would see how much care the teachers took making sure that I succeeded,” Morgan said. “Because it was such a positive experience for me, it made it an easy decision for everybody else to follow behind me.”

Debate coach and literature teacher Lisa Willoughby, who has taught all but one of the Martins, fondly remembers the family’s spirit.

“To a greater extent than any family I’ve ever worked with, each Martin is totally their own person,” Willoughby said. “One commonality is that all of them have a sense of voice. Not one of them is timid about sharing what he or she thinks.”


Growing up with Grady

The Grady Martins quickly profited from the communications magnet program. A curriculum heavily centered on writing soon became an invaluable resource to the school; the tiny magnet program, which had once benefited only a small fraction of Grady’s students, attracted hoards of students by the time that the school transitioned from the communications magnet to small learning academies in 2011.

Rebecca Martin, who now works for NPR’s Youth Radio, said that writing assignments in each of her classes at Grady taught her how to communicate effectively. She believes that Grady’s programs instigated her interest in media.

“I learned what good journalism looks like,” Rebecca said. “That was the spark that got me to where I am now.”

Many of the Martins now work in communications-related fields. Despite their similar interests, however, not every Martin has followed the same path.

“Jefferson is the first true scientist of all of us,” said Will Martin, who graduated in 2002. “It’s cool because the communications magnet was the big thing when I was coming through, but now the sciences [have a presence].”

Jefferson, a member of G3 robotics and ROTC, said that many of the activities he pursues did not exist when his other family members attended the school.

“When I came here, a lot of teachers knew my brother very well coming in because he did a lot,” he said. “He was the [managing editor] of The Southerner and was in charge of Gametime and GNN. He helped start the lacrosse and water polo teams. I kind of went a different path with it.”

Back when the fledgling debate and mock trial teams struggled in regional competitions and robotics was a mere dream, the Martins pushed to make Grady a presence.

“Grady was the underdog in a lot of scenarios,” Rebecca said.
“But we’d win awards or beat private schools in track. We’d prove people wrong.”

Willoughby remembers Will Martin as a pioneer who helped make the debate team the force that is is today.

“That was the point at which the team went from being a regional Georgia team to a national team,” Willoughby said. “Part of that was due to Will and his partner’s recognition that the only difference was money. We were every bit as good–we just needed money to get out to the more national tournaments to take us to the national level.”

The competitive spirit and persistence of students such as Daniel Martin, who graduated in 1994, helped push the debate team to excel. Willoughby remembers a tournament in Carrollton in which Martin showed his commitment to the team.

“Daniel was standing there in the hall, holding his arm strangely, and he looked kind of green,” Willoughby said. “He had been playing touch football in the parking lot, and had fallen and broken his arm, maybe his collar bone. It was a pretty serious injury. … Daniel’s father, who at that point happened to be the school board president, drove out to Carrollton and took Daniel to the hospital. Daniel insisted on coming back to the tournament. … He was tenacious enough to want to keep competing even after he had broken his arm.”

Such commitment is typical of the Martins.

“My family has given me a lot to live up to because pretty much all of my family members have been very successful in what they’ve tried to do,” Jefferson said. “My family gives me something to aspire to, gives me a standard that I have to live up to, and it’s kind of nice.”

Willoughby describes 1991 graduate Marie Martin as “a force of nature.”

“Marie goes after problems and doesn’t relent until she finds a resolution,” Willoughby said.

This drive has led many of Grady’s programs to be indebted to a Martin or two. The Southerner, for example,  owes its masthead to Jay Martin, the fifth in his family to attend Grady. As a layout editor in the early 1990s, he designed the skyline that was later incorporated into the paper’s current design.

“As I remember it, I also came up with ‘An upbeat paper for a downtown school,” Jay said.

Jay also participated in Grady’s cross-country, tennis, soccer and baseball teams.

“I had no business being on any one of them,” he said. “I was a terrible athlete. But Grady was the opposite of a typical high school, where sports are exclusionary. At Grady, there was a place for you if you were willing to work hard.”

In his senior year, Jay became Atlanta Public School’s “scholar athlete.”

“It was the biggest joke ever,” Jay said. “I feel bad for the true scholar athlete.”

Several of the Martins also ran for the cross-country team, though as Rebecca Martin said, they “always brought up the rear.”

Yet Willoughby describes 2010 graduate Jake Martin, who was on the first water polo team, as a “natural athlete.”

“He centered so much of his identity around his athleticism, but he was also incredibly bright,” Willoughby said. “English, definitely, was never his first love. …  I think he was keeping up an incredibly grueling schedule. The class that I had him in was right after lunch. I still remember because he would always start to nod off, he would fight so hard to stay awake, but I could tell that was a challenge for him. But he ended up doing very well.”

As Martin after Martin graduated and Grady began to evolve, the family remained at the center of Grady’s community. When it came time to crown the first Mr. Grady, a Martin donned the crown.

“In all modesty, I still claim as my biggest achievement being Mr. Grady,” Frank Martin said. “That remains my crowning achievement to date.”

Willoughby remembers Frank for his charisma.

“I was really impressed with his ability to really be friends with everybody across the Grady student body,” Willoughby said. “They were genuine, sincere friendships. He really had friendships with all different kinds of people.”

Katy Martin, who graduated in 1990, was similarly charismatic.

“She just became everybody’s friend,” Willoughby said. “She was bright, charming—just really vivacious.”


Looking Back

“The memory of my experience [at Grady] is still very present to me,” Rebecca Martin said. “At Grady, I felt like I was part of something bigger.”

It seems that family and school pride become intertwined when nine of your siblings and cousins have attended your alma mater.

“My brother Frankie will still to this day say “We all we got” which means both that we are Martins and also Grady Knights,” Morgan said. “The two things that have made me who I am to this day are that I am a Martin and that I went to Grady.”

Jay Martin believes that he could never express how indebted he feels to Grady’s teachers.

“After family, Grady is the most important thing in my life that has shaped who I am,” Jay said. “[People who did not attend Grady] don’t really understand how high school could be so transformative to someone’s life.”

Each of the Martins highlighted teacher involvement and a vibrant community as Grady’s most valuable qualities.

“I tell everyone who will listen that Grady was the most formative and, frankly, important experience of my life,” Frank Martin said. “It was a thriving academic community. Everything Grady stands for has informed and continues to inform how I think about the world.”

The Martins unite in their family pride and school spirit—Joe Martin, a former school board member, even received an honorary diploma.

“Deep love for Grady is universal to all of us,” Frank said. “[I loved] the sense of community and the uniqueness of what Grady is with its diversity and commitment to excellence, its fostering of a really tight-knit community. … My friends from Grady are to this day my best friends. I have a deep and true indebtedness to Grady and to teachers who really went above and beyond to help me grow into the person I am today.”

Despite the permanence of Grady in the memories of the Martins, few current students are aware of the contributions they made to the school.

“I’m not sure the broader school will remember them more than the brick in the courtyard, but I think each one of them has left a mark here,” Willoughby said. “Each one of them has done something they think will make the school better, and I believe that they will do the same thing throughout the rest of their lives. That’s just sort of what they’re about. They make their world better.”

Throughout the years, the Martin family has become intertwined with Grady history. Their contributions to all aspects of the school—whether athletic, academic or otherwise—have helped make Grady what it is today. Though individually the Martins are different, together they are Grady.