“It’s impossible to teach a third-grade kid that drugs are bad for them in every way when drug usage is part of their everyday environment.” Pete Martin, Kankakee
I have known Pete Martin for about 20 years. Many might be familiar with his business names (Pete the Hauler, Pickup Pete or Pete Martin) that can be seen on the sides of his trucks, which always are on the move across town. Pete and I have had several sidebar chats during the years. Maybe 10 minutes here or 20 minutes there, but I never have had the chance, until recently, to ask him what makes him tick.
It was in 1999 he started his business and around the time we first met. Again, it was idle chat about his desire to prevent youth from traveling the paths of his youth. Paths that included more than 100 chances to do the right thing.
Pete says his waywardness began when he was in third grade. His favorite class was bathroom time and his least favorite classes were all that had anything to do with learning. The desire, ability and support to achieve academically was nonexistent. He basically was on his own, left to the influences of his environment in the Chicago Public Housing Projects. He was held back a grade because of unsatisfactory academic progress and behavioral mismanagement. He spent time in juvenile and adult confinement on 11 different occasions for drug and criminal offenses.
That is how he survived until his 100th chance. Instead of being incarcerated again, Pete said, a forward-thinking judge asked if he had a drug dependency.
“It was the first time anyone had ever asked me about my drug use. I chose not to lie, and it was the best thing I have ever done,” Pete admitted.
He was given one more chance to accept the help he needed to change his life or face the inevitable: prison. He took it. That was 28 years ago, and he hasn’t looked back.
Pete said he was 41 when he found his first legal job. It was then he realized he didn’t have to do anything and everything illegal to survive. He also began his hauling venture. He started with one pickup truck, and it has grown to a small fleet.
During the 20 years Pete the Hauler has been on the road, he always has tried to haul others along the way, particularly youth. During the years, he has supported the community in several ways, including food, clothing and back-to-school drives. He continues these efforts — more than 90, by his estimation — through his not-for-profit, youthupliftministry.org.
Reaching the youth is his biggest challenge — partly because Pete Martin has a unique way of giving. He doesn’t deliver his messages in pretty wrapping paper with bright ribbons attached. His messages come in a nondescript manner, with blunt street truth.
During the years, I often have thought Pete’s rhetorical gems never would be well received on the floor of the Illinois General Assembly or a municipal town hall, let alone in the living rooms of homes of the many youths he encounters. But he has a lot to say. He tells it as it is, and most times, it isn’t pretty.
What makes Pete tick and what ticks him off quickly became obvious when he said, “Ron, we can’t wait until third grade anymore. We got to get them by age 5, or it’s too late.”
Pete knows there aren’t too many people who get 100 chances anymore to do right. He’s trying to keep as many kids as possible from needing them. Preventing another generation of young Pete Martins is what makes him tick.
What ticks him off are the challenges of the home environments and technological advances too many of today’s youth are presented.
He was given 100 chances. He said he is going to give 101 chances before he gives up. And he knows only one way (even if it’s not delivered in the beautifully wrapped vernacular most people expect) to let kids know there is someone who cares.
“Pretty is popular. I ain’t trying to be pretty or popular,” he said, before he had to rush off to make a pickup.