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Martin Toe, Granite State College

Martin Toe: Civic Leader

Each year, emerging young leaders across New Hampshire are honored by Stay Work Play, a nonprofit committed to attracting and retaining more young people, during their Annual Rising Stars Awards. Among the 2020 award recipients is business management major, Martin Toe ‘21, who was named the Civic Leader of the Year for his efforts to make a positive difference in his community.

Earning the Civic Leader of the Year award is a meaningful distinction for any honoree; knowing that Martin achieved this recognition during the final stages of his bachelor’s degree program is an extraordinary feat that serves as an example to all adult students with big dreams.


A Childhood Marked by Unrest

Born in the Ivory Coast, Martin Toe grew up in a happy household with his mother and siblings, which was rapidly uprooted when civil war tore apart the country he called home. The familiar stability of Martin’s upbringing was soon overshadowed by horrific stories on the news, rioting, police brutality, and other injustices. With the escalating violence, more than 100,000 individuals left the Ivory Coast to seek safety, including Martin and his family. They travelled from city to city and eventually heard news that several countries were receiving refugees impacted by the war in Liberia and Ivory Coast. Martin’s mother submitted the necessary paperwork to be considered and they were overjoyed to learn that they qualified for entry to the United States.

Journey to the Free World

Martin’s transition to life in Concord, New Hampshire, brought many new experiences: seeing his first snowfall, playing in youth sports, and building bonds within the community. Entering school brought its own set of challenges. At times, he struggled to comprehend the teacher’s lessons and socially, he experienced bullying from his peers.

Things began to change when he enrolled at the local Boys and Girls club. The staff were attentive to the issues that Martin was facing and their support helped him gain confidence. He learned how to make friends and build positive relationships with peers. He also found a love for basketball and started playing on competitive teams.

As he entered middle school, Martin’s talents as an artist and an athlete began to emerge. As his classmates and teachers recognized his talent and people skills, he realized that he had a platform to influence others in a positive way. Throughout it all, education was a priority. His mother and her friends would encourage Martin and his sister to embrace what they were learning at school.

Looking back, I see wisdom in what they were saying. They wanted me to get an education in hopes of changing the life of my family and creating opportunities for those around me and those back home where I come from.

Fueled by Passion

After high school, like many of his classmates, Martin began taking college courses locally, first at NHTI and then at Granite State College. Unlike his peers, Martin had a drive and purpose that was wise beyond his years. With interests that span music, spoken word, and community activism, Martin was inspired to pursue a pathway that integrated each of these passions into one, while earning his degree.

Putting his passion into practice, Martin recorded his own music, using his talent to spread messages of hope, courage, and strength. His self-release EP received international critical acclaim. Martin was also inspired to write a book about his journey as a refugee in efforts to help others overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Within the community, Martin pursued internship opportunities that would give him professional experience and put what he’s learning in his business major into practice while affecting positive change.

Most recently, Martin served as the Grassroots Organizer Intern for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) where he organized “Know Your Rights” training, a Civics Academy, and a delegation of young adults that traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate with our congressional delegation for immigrant rights.

While interning at AFSC, Martin seized the opportunity to take on a leadership role by co-founding Change for Concord with a fellow organizer. Change for Concord is a diverse group of young adults who are working together to improve the quality of life for people in the Concord area

Oftentimes, we don’t value the strength of diversity in our community and therefore it is minimized. Subsequently, people are taught that their voices don’t matter. We want to address this by taking action to show marginalized groups that their voices matter.

Martin credits AFSC for giving him the tools to lead. Ultimately, it was Martin’s leadership within Change for Concord that garnered the attention of Stay Work Play’s Rising Stars Award as the Civic Leader of the Year. In a ceremony held in October 2020, Martin shared:

 It takes every one of us to make New Hampshire a more vibrant and inclusive place. We all have our part.

A Bright Future

Martin is proud of the groundwork he has laid for his future throughout his education at Granite State College. With a focus on issues that impact young people and are critical in achieving a more inclusive community—raising the minimum wage, affordable housing, immigration reform, restorative justice—Martin is committed to amplifying this work through his music, art, community activism, and ultimately his career.

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