Mel Martin: Drawing Strength and Power from Circumstance

Born, raised, and educated in Detroit, Mel Martin is a former buildOn student (2008 – 2011) and now a buildOn donor and advocate. Here, Mel reflects on how his years of service helped him discover his “lifelong mission” and shaped who he is today.

Before graduating from Michigan State University and becoming an Associate Case Researcher at the Harvard Business School, Mel Martin was once a buildOn student at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. Whether it was playing chess with veterans or volunteering with children and women recovering from domestic abuse, Mel recalls his three years of service with buildOn as being pivotal to who he is today. 

Mel (on the right) helping to plant trees in Detroit as part of a Green-Up-The-Neighborhood service project.

“As a kid growing up in the city, you see all these complex issues that you have zero control over – in politics, dangers at or on your way to school, and even challenges with your family and peers. I was filled with an anxious energy; an eagerness to problem-solve. buildOn gave me a way to channel that energy into something positive,” Mel says. He also credits his involvement with buildOn as helping to plant and foster his problem-solving mindset. “When someone tells me about a problem or something they are upset about,” Mel says, “my thinking quickly jumps to: so what are we going to do to fix it? It’s about taking ownership of the community and its collective outcomes.”

Mel (center left) and buildOn Detroit students behind a newly planted tree.

Without buildOn and community service opportunities, Mel doubts that he would’ve been able to learn his city as intimately as he has or engage with Detroiters as intimately as he has. “Because of what buildOn sowed in me, I’ll never give up on my city,” Mel says. “It gave me a chance to dig into the core of what really enlivens me and showed me that I could draw strength and power from my circumstance. I remind myself of these lessons as I encounter the challenges of today.” 

Mel (right) serving at a local veterans center alongside other volunteers.

Although Mel is currently living in Boston, Massachusetts, where he helps faculty develop cases and teaching material at the Harvard Business School, he is still (and will always be!) a Detroiter. From organizing fundraisers to ensure Detroit students have clean drinking water to coordinating hip-hop performances to inspire and teach the city’s next generation of changemakers, Mel is committed to his “lifelong mission” – make an impact on Detroit so that Detroit can make its impact on the world. 

One of the latest ways Mel has made an impact on the city he loves is by showing his solidarity with buildOn Detroit students and becoming a member of the Detroit Solidarity Circle. When asked why he chose to make this investment in buildOn students, Mels says “change is inevitable, but nothing changes for the better unless we vote for it; unless we take our hard-earned money, time, or passion and vote by contributing to something that we believe in. The Solidarity Circle is an opportunity to cast your vote and invest in this change.”

Learn how you can become a Solidarity Circle member in your region.