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Residents like Leroy Martinez helping keep kids safe

By: Carol Feineman, editor
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Know and Go: What: Free hip-hop dance classes for youth When: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays Where: The Oaks clubhouse, 1750 First St. (behind Valero gas station) Price: Free Information: Leroy Martinez at 548-7718 Most good dancers like being in the spotlight. So I thought Leroy Martinez, who auditioned for the “You Think You Can Dance” on Feb. 28 in Salt Lake City, would talk nonstop about his experiences on the highly-rated Fox Channel competition. The 29-year-old said he started dancing when he was 16 and performs with dance group The Peacemakers at hundreds of church and community events.” But when I called the Lincoln resident, Martinez instead wanted to focus on the Lincoln children he and his friends teach. That’s refreshing, and reassuring, after last week’s unsettling articles and column (front page April 5, “Gang activity on the rise” and “Ex-member’s view of life in the gang” and page 4, “We have to stop gangs from increasing in Lincoln”) about Lincoln’s increased gang activity. Those articles described how local teens are joining Lincoln gangs that are both expanding and becoming more violent. Martinez, who has an 11-year-old daughter, wants to keep Lincoln’s youth from joining gangs. “If it wasn’t for dance, I’d probably be caught up in a lot of different stuff, like drugs and alcohol and gangs,” Martinez said this week. “Growing up in Utah, that was the norm. You partied, drank hard and got in trouble. I moved to California when I was 12 and dance kept me stable. It gave me an opportunity, gave me discipline and gave me a goal.” One goal of the Peacemakers “is to promote peace to the street,” Martinez said. “I want to give back to dance what dance has given to me.” So after his full-time job at a dog boarding business in Loomis, Martinez and other Peacemakers members teach free hip-hop classes to youth Monday nights at the Oaks Apartment in Lincoln and Wednesday nights at the Lord’s Gym in Roseville. And the Peacemakers, who are gym alumni, want to add three more dance classes at a Lincoln church or facility. While two of the teachers receive a stipend, Martinez doesn’t get paid to teach dance. He’s volunteering his time. Class funding comes from the nonprofit Latino Leadership Council. Although the Hispanic community funds the classes, Martinez said, “Anyone can show up, from 4 to 40.” So far, students range in age from 5 to 16. But, Martinez stressed, there are no age restrictions. “We’re trying to reach all the kids. Classes are always open. We have 10 to 15 kids for some classes and then sometimes five in another class. In summer, we have more students; holidays some students and during the school, less students,”?Martinez said. “Every week is different. But the more kids, the merrier.” Martinez seemed to enjoy talking more about the hip-hop classes for Lincoln youth than talking about his time on “So You Think You Can Dance.” He’s trying to make a difference in the lives of area youth. “A lot of these kids come from broken homes. A lot of moms will bring their boys to us. Parents like it because there’s a form of discipline,” Martinez said. “Just because you’re doing dance doesn’t mean you can be rude and disrespectful. Martinez hopes more youth will try the free dance classes. “We want kids to know if they love to dance, here’s an opportunity. If they’re bored, it gives them something to do and they get a skill,” Martinez said. “Parents can take their kids to a safe environment.” New Song Community Church lead pastor Lane Olson, who is a former high school teacher, agrees that the classes are beneficial for the youth. The Peacemakers have performed at his church. “The kids are really excited, it’s good clean fun. It’s learning a skill. It helps them do well in life. It seems when you meet a challenge, it helps you build your self confidence and your ability to meet other challenges,” Olson said. “A lot of people live lives of quiet desperation. When people learn to do well at anything, playing an instrument, sports, dancing; it helps prepare them to win at other stuff.” We’re lucky that Martinez is helping area youth do just that.