Luis Martinez’s family had problems even before he was born.
“My father Jorge Luis Martinez got infected with HIV, which eventually turned into AIDS,” said Martinez, 32. “Unknowingly, he passed it to my mother when she was pregnant with my brother, Elvin.”
A year and a half after Elvin was born HIV positive, Luis’ birth occurred. He was HIV-negative.
“My mother always told me that I was a miracle,” Luis says, “and that I would change the world with my story.”
Martinez’s story is indeed inspirational. His father and brother died by the time before having even entered school. He then bounced from house to house in a half dozen cities. Eventually, he became homeless and hit bottom, but he persevered and eventually turned his life around, becoming a security guard at Dolphin Mall.
Martinez was born on February 26, 1991 at Jackson Memorial Hospital to a Puerto Rican father and a Nicaraguan American mother. When his father and his brother tested positive for HIV, the family relocated to New York in 1996 to receive better medical care. Sadly, both of them became ill and died the same week in July. Martinez was 5-years-old at the time.
After the death of his father and brother, he moved to Fort Myers, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Allapattah, New York, and then back to Miami with his mother and sister. His mother worked as a cleaning lady and nanny, even as she too became ill with AIDs
“As she got sicker, we ended up moving to Little Havana, Miami in 2003,” said Martinez. “My mother had a difficult time finding stable employment.”
He was only 14 when his mother left him with his sister, who was older, to spend her last years in Nicaragua.
“I have a heart for those who suffered from AIDS because I saw it with my own eyes,” Martinez said. “As a teenager, I started asking more questions and learned that my sisters were not actual blood sisters. My father took care of people who weren’t actually family.”
There was no doubt in Martinez’s mind that his mother and father were good people. Growing up, he had seen them feeding neighborhood children and educating them about life and God.
But Martinez felt like his whole family had fallen apart. Having witnessed his mother’s AIDS suffering, he struggled emotionally and financially.
“As I got older, it was my mother’s death that affected me the most,” he said. “She was my last protector that was gone. It was a lot to take in at first.
In the years following his mother’s death, Luis lived with his older sister while attending Citrus Grove Middle School and Miami Senior High School.
“My sister and I have a blended family,” said Martinez. “She loved my father very much and regarded him as her real father.”
Martinez had a tough time keeping his emotions together during middle school. He suffered from bullying and depression.
“I failed the sixth grade and had to repeat a whole year,” said Martinez.
He recalls suicidal thoughts and depression. “I would get into fights with kids. I almost got ambushed by a gang.”
Once he entered high school, his life turned around and he saw a big improvement. He started to learn more about himself and heal his mental health.
“I was a low self-esteem kid to myself,” said Martinez. “In those days, I wore the same clothes to school every day, so I got picked on.”
As soon as he became more active at school, things started to improve. Martinez’s life has always included music, even as a young child.
As a child, Martinez sang in church and at school. He was part of the theater program. Music, acting, and entertainment have always been his passions.
“Through my voice and energy, my teacher explained that I was meant to be in front of the TV,” he said. “It was clear to me from that day onward that I was going to be a member of the entertainment industry in some way.”
He began working on TV projects and in acting. He drew close to his acting teacher. Every student appeared in front of the camera for a rehearsed casting.
“I was a full-time student and had a full-time job at the same time,” said Martinez. “During the night, I slept three to four hours. It took my high school counselor a while to get to know my situation better.”
Teachers and counselors at Martinez’s school knew there was a problem. Growing up, he was street-smart and did not want to be perceived as a victim.
“My sister and I lived together from 14 to 17 years old,” said Martinez.
Martinez’s older sister was working at the time but was unaware of what was happening. In addition, she did not know a lot of English. Her trust in him was based on the fact that he was a good child.
Due to a disagreement, Martinez ran away from his sister’s house and no longer had a family home.
“I ran away from her house and started working and raising myself since then,” said Martinez. “I was going to high school full-time and started working 40 hours a week at a restaurant but unfortunately, it wasn’t a stable job.”
This led him to become homeless many times. He crashed on his friends’ couches for short periods while working many unstable jobs. He couldn’t own many things because he didn’t know where he was going to stay the next day. He didn’t know what he was going to eat either.
He experienced homelessness for four years. He questioned whether or not everything would turn out alright in the future.
In order to get back on his feet, Martinez worked as a server, busser, security guard, patrol officer, supervisor, etc. He had many jobs but the one that has brought the most fulfillment is his current music DJ career and non-profit organization that allows him to help others.
With the help of his girlfriend’s family, Martinez was able to get back on his feet at the age of 21. The Negron family who took Martinez in as if he were a member of their own family.
“I was getting back on my feet with the help of her parents. As soon as I was able to find a stable job, her parents allowed me to slowly assist with rent until I could manage on my own,” he said.
But Martinez knew he would need a college degree in order to succeed after high school. He studied radio broadcasting and production engineering at Miami Dade College. While attending college, he was able to learn about the business side of entertainment as well as the basic prerequisites.
Upon obtaining his associate’s degree in science in radio and television broadcast programming from the college, he enrolled in Miami Media School. Through the hands-on program, he learned how to DJ, gained experience, and used his voice to bring energy to a room.
Martinez knew how to speak on the microphone but he learned how to mix. The music that Luis plays is rteggaeton, hip-hop, dance, EDM, reggae, rock, and throwbacks from the 70s. He is an open-format DJ, which means he plays a little bit of every genre.
These days he passes on his story of losing his family to AIDS to others.
“I believe I make an impact in this community by paying it forward for what other strangers have done for me,” said Martinez.
He founded I Love Avenue over 13 years ago. It partners with nonprofits such as Cristina’s Academy, Meraki Youth, Love One Feed One, and the Miami Vineyard Church to help those in need. His understanding of the poverty areas in Miami allows him to cater to them.People living in poverty can take advantage of a free shower bus, receive a haircut, get fresh food, clothing, and listen to Martinez’s music at the event.
“We were able to get a lot of help from the government to assist the community professionally,” said Martinez.
Stefani Davila of Meraki Youth, a non-profit organization that aims to inspire high schoolers, is a fan. She has collaborated with Martinez’s non-profit.
“I Love Avenue’s long-standing contributions to the community have provided opportunities…such as community work, beach clean-ups, donation drives, love block parties, random acts of kindness, and other events,” said Davila.
Additionally, Martinez is employed by Epilepsy Alliance Florida as a healthcare navigator. It has been over two years since he joined the group. Martinez and his team will be hosting a Walk The Talk Epilepsy event in April through The Epilepsy Alliance Florida.
”Our goal is to raise more funds for the charity by attracting more walkers,” said Martinez. It will be held at Zoo Miami on April 22.