Source: Sherman Publications

New DDA employee has unique background

by CJ Carnacchio

July 27, 2011

Maria Martin had a front-row seat for one of the most important historical events of the 20th century – the end of apartheid in South Africa.

“To live through that entire era, for me, probably was one of the most life-changing experiences,” said the charming 37-year-old Oxford Village resident who was recently hired as the Downtown Development Authority’s new part-time administrative assistant.

Born and raised in Uitenhage, a town on the east coast of South Africa near the city of Port Elizabeth, apartheid was “the norm.”

“As a kid growing up, this was just the way life was,” Martin explained. “Honestly, I never thought twice about it.”

Introduced in 1948, apartheid was the legal system of racial, social and economic segregation through which South Africa’s minority white population dominated and oppressed the nation’s black majority.

Apartheid was dismantled through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1994.

For Martin, the most visible and immediate effect of apartheid’s end was the welcoming of black students into the high school she attended.

“All of the sudden it just changed everything,” she said. “It made me question everything about the way in which I was brought up. Is this right? This can’t be right.”

“It’s made me realize exactly how oppressive the white folk in South Africa had been.”

Martin is pleased to report that today the racial divide has “dwindled significantly.”

“People are learning how to live together,” she said.

Unfortunately, the racial divide has been replaced by an economic divide between South Africa’s extremely rich and “super poor.”

“The poverty in South Africa is just so huge,” Martin said. “It’s resulted in significant amounts of crime, which has changed the face of South Africa over the years. Things are very different now.”

Despite its problems, Martin noted South Africa is “still one of the most beautiful countries in the world.”

“We do not have wild animals that roam the streets contrary to popular belief,” she noted. “Those are (in) the game reserves.”

Having lived in Oxford Village for the last 3½ years, Martin indicated despite the many similarities between the United States and her homeland, there are some significant, yet positive, differences, the biggest one being safety.

“Here I can hop on my bike with my daughter (Isabella, 5) and my husband (Adrian) and we can go for a ride around the block. We see people pushing strollers,” she said. “In South Africa, you can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to be incredibly cautious.”

The other big difference is housing.

“The houses here are a lot bigger and they’re air-conditioned,” she said. “We don’t have that in South Africa because our climate doesn’t get that cold or that hot.”

Martin loves downtown Oxford and is very pleased to now be a part of the on-going revitalization efforts.

“I think we’re a hidden gem,” she said. “I think we have a lot more to offer than what a lot of people both within and outside of Oxford may realize.”

“We need to become more prominent not only within Oxford, but within our surrounding towns as well.”

Martin has an extremely impressive resume that most notably includes 10 years working for Coca-Cola in South Africa.

She started out as a senior training officer and worked her way up to various management positions, where she gained experience in marketing, managing teams and projects, overseeing finances and running an office.

Martin admitted she’s definitely overqualified for her new DDA position, but that’s okay because it allows her to get back into marketing and sales after putting her career on hold while she focused on raising her daughter, who will be starting kindergarten in the fall at Oxford Schools.

“In terms of my life right now and where we want to be as a family, (this DDA job is) perfect for me and it’s perfect for our family,” she said.

As a worker, Martin indicated she’s “not a clock-watcher.”

“I do what has to get done for the job to be done the right way,” she said. “I enjoy a good challenge.”

Martin described herself as “very eager to learn” and “very eager to please” both the DDA and the businesses that makeup the district. “I take pride in trying to find a happy balance between those two entities,” she noted.

Martin believes she can bring “fresh ideas” and organization skills to the table.

“I can be a great support to all the committees and help get things done (in a manner that’s) smarter, faster and more cost-effective,” she said.

Ultimately, Martin is very passionate about getting more people to visit downtown Oxford and shop there.

“That’s my personal goal,” she said.