How One Man Is Shifting Conversations About Literacy And Fitness

A 2015 study by the National Assessment for Education found that just 33% of American fourth and eighth-graders are at or above proficiency level in reading. That percentage is even more abysmal when looking solely at children from low-income families. Only 18 percent of students living in poverty are reading proficiently, per the U.S. Department of Education, while another study found that 61 percent of low-income families don’t have any children’s books at home.

The stats are a cause for major concern: Studies have shown that one in six third graders who struggle with reading will not complete high school, and high school dropouts are more likely to have drug and alcohol abuse problems, be unemployed and commit crimes at a higher rate than those who graduate.

Goldin Martinez is doing something about the low literacy levels in underserved communities. But that’s not all. He’s also tackling growing obesity rates in those same communities. It’s a 2-for-1 that’s making serious impact and changing how kids look at reading.

In 2009, Martinez, a 28-year-old fitness trainer, started Get Focused with hopes of building a reading program that would turn exercise into currency for inner-city kids who couldn’t afford to purchase books. The idea came about when Martinez was 20 years old and searching for meaning.

“I discovered my purpose is to create a movement that would change lives. I wanted to do something new and fresh, but I wanted it to involve reading,” Martinez says. “What if these kids can pay for books using exercise as currency?”

It was a revolutionary that sparked a movement. Today, Martinez travels the New York tri-state area, helping children in dozens of schools with purchasing books through exercise. So far, 22,000 books have been “sold” in New York City.

“Do you know how many kids were left out of the Scholastic book fairs? I was one of them. And now there’s no problem like that. We walk into these schools, and every single kid can participate. Every single child.”