Thompson Rivers University

Overcoming the odds with courage and hope

September 18, 2017

According to lawyer Lesra Martin, keynote speaker at the upcoming TRU LEADership Conference 2017, personal history and life experiences can either “make you or break you.” In his case, he has not only risen high above his hardships—but has crafted a philosophy around motivation, perseverance and hope.

Raised with his eight siblings within the confines of a three-block section of the New York neighbourhood Bedford Stuyvesant, Lesra was once an illiterate youth “burdened by the lack of access to opportunity and denied the basics of life—lack of decent livelihood.”

Removed from the ghetto by a group of Canadian social activists, Lesra moved to their palatial commune compound in Toronto. His benefactors provided him with an education away from the poverty, violence and despair that characterized his daily life.  With access to nutrition, medical and dental care, his adopted family also exposed him to a world of art, culture, critical thought and conversation.

Despite Lesra’s good fortune and fantastic prospects, he couldn’t shake the torment and trauma of his past—nor the guilt he faced for leaving his loved ones behind. Eventually, Lesra reconciled his guilt by invoking a personal promise to focus on the positive aspects of his life, as well as his ability to perpetuate change within himself.

His role in defending Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was conceived after reading The Sixteenth Round, the autobiography of the falsely accused and imprisoned championship boxer. Lesra contacted Carter and later met him at New Jersey’s Trenton State Prison. Lesra’s foster family joined him in the five-year long quest for Carter’s freedom, leading to his 1985 exoneration in a U.S. federal court.

The release of Carter—who had been imprisoned for over 20 years—became fodder for the Hollywood biopic The Hurricane, which starred Denzel Washington. The Oscar-nominated film also paralleled Lesra’s life story alongside Carter’s, which led to attention, accolades, high-rolling adventures and interviews with Oprah and Larry King.

Now residing in Kamloops with his wife and two children, the former Crown Prosecutor has his own law firm, Martin & Martin Lawyers. The community-centered activist and motivational speaker shares his story with humour, heart and humility.

Further insights from the mind of Lesra Martin:

Share the message.

“It’s not just a passion but an obligation; we all have a responsibility to pass on the good fortunes and lessons that we have learned from the past.”

Find balance in the burden.

“When things are tough and your back is against the wall—stop, reflect and flip the coin—see what’s on the other side.”

Individual impact.

“While there is strength in numbers, never underestimate the power of one’s self. You alone are capable of propelling change.”

Fear is just fear.

“Fearful emotions can be motivating or paralyzing, which can produce the wrong outcome…if we let it.  It’s all about perspective.”

Pay it forward.

“It might be easy to think, ‘I’m just one person’, but I believe that if everyone takes on a mentorship role to someone in need, that the world would be a far better place.”

Obstacles are learning tools.

“The hurdle is never put in our path to prove that we can’t do it, it’s to show us the way or to show us just how much we want something.”

Above all, hope.

“Where there is hope, there is an ability to prosper—I truly believe today, that hope grows. Losing hope is the worst thing that can happen to our temperament.”

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