By Brianna Hoge
For nearly a decade, Martez Files, Ph.D., program coordinator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), has served as an activist in the Birmingham community. From assisting with housing and food to ensuring local students with disabilities are supported, he is dedicated to serving the residents of Birmingham and Alabama.
Growing up in Birmingham, Martez saw firsthand the need for mental health resources, especially for adolescents in the community.
According to the World Health Organization, “one in seven adolescents experiences a mental disorder” and “suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds.”
Knowing the need, he decided to act. In 2019, he started an initiative creating mental health kits that could be easily distributed across the state.
Each kit includes items that can be used as grounding tools in times of stress, such as essential oils, stress balls, pens and journals, and/or cards of affirmations.
“The items included in each kit are meant to help a student’s mental health, even if they don’t have access to a therapist or counselor,” Files said.
During 2021, Files knew the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was causing fear and stress, intensifying the need for the mental health kits. Partnering with the UAB School of Education’s Gear-UP Alabama, and with help from the community, he assembled and delivered 1,000 self-care kits to 42 rural Alabama schools.
Birmingham residents looking for resources for mental health can use the UAB Community Counseling Clinic. The clinic offers low-cost counseling services to the public by well-trained graduate students, supervised by experienced faculty members, to serve the economically challenged and underserved communities.
“The kits were such a huge hit,” he said. “Students across the state were contacting me asking me if we were going to bring kits to their school.”
Files is in the process of planning this year’s kit assembly. His goal is to have enough items to deliver several kits to each of the 12 juvenile detention centers in the state.
“My hope is that these kits will be there to help those youth who may be struggling with fear and anxiety and let them know we care about them and their mental health,” Files said.
Journey To Service
Files has been passionate about service and advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves for as long as he can remember.
During his time as an undergraduate at UAB, he was involved across campus and founded the African American Studies Student Organization. He graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in African American studies and history from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences.
After leaving the state to attend graduate school, Files knew he wanted to return home to Birmingham and UAB to teach the next generation of world-changers.
“As I’m a professor, students may look at me for the answers; but I really look to them for inspiration,” Files said. “At UAB, I have met some of the most passionate and genius student leaders and activists I have ever seen.”
Files says that, in addition to the students, his mentors and professors at UAB have inspired him and opened doors that have allowed him to live out his passion for service.
Moving forward, Files hopes to continue teaching and being a voice for social justice in Alabama.
“I just want to serve and do what I can to make this world a little more livable and loveable for everyone.”