Tom Martin was already transforming his life when he joined Oregon Humanities’ Humanity in Perspective class in Portland four years ago. Recently enrolled in community college, he was pursuing a degree after working twenty-five years in the bicycle industry. Away from work, he’d spent the past two decades as an activist, advocating around bicycle and transportation issues.
“It was exhausting,” he says. “I would do the activist work on the weekends and then go to work doing product development for bike companies during the week. Pretty much every time I’d take a job, I’d get to a certain point where I’d be training someone who had a degree but no experience, who, within months, would be making more money and have more responsibility than I did.” He decided it was time for a change.
Humanity in Perspective, a free college humanities course for adults who face financial barriers to continuing their education, gave Martin what he calls “the luxury to read,” write, and think with other students in a way that wasn’t always available to him, even in his community college classes. While the texts were powerful and his writing improved over the course, he says the most valuable thing he took from the experience was hearing the perspectives of his classmates.
“To be able to read, reflect, and discuss with people who come from a completely different background from you, it’s eye-opening,” he says. “And being able to say what you think in an environment like that, it takes courage. It’s important to be unafraid to look at stuff from a different perspective.”
It’s a lesson he’s taken with him as he’s earned his associate and bachelor’s degrees and launched a career that marries his two passions—bicycles and advocacy. As program director for Rosewood Bikes, a program of the Rosewood Initiative in Southeast Portland that offers tools, training, and low-cost repair services to community members, Martin puts his years of bicycle industry and activist experience to use, along with his understanding of how important it is to see things from different points of view.
Part of his job is to listen to community members about what tools they need to fulfill the community-building mission of the organization. “There’s a curiosity I have about the neighborhood I work in,” he says. “I’m willing to listen to people more. Humanity in Perspective had an impact on that. It’s part of the path that led me here.”
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