Arizona State University alumnus, staff member and community leader Marcelino Quiñonez has been selected as the 2022 ASU Martin Luther King Jr. Staff Servant-Leadership awardee, as a part of the university's annual MLK Jr. celebration.
As ASU’s director of educational outreach and partnerships, and a newly appointed state representative, Quiñonez’s service extends past the university and into the community. Quiñonez graduated from South Mountain High School and continued his education at ASU to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s degree. Quiñonez is the son of Mexican immigrants, and former high school theater teacher and Roosevelt Elementary School District governing board member.
In this Q&A, Quiñonez discusses leadership, acts of service and some memorable experiences.
Question: You’ve been honored with the inaugural 2022 ASU MLK Jr. Staff Servant-Leadership Award. Describe how you felt when you heard the news.
Answer: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has inspired me since I was a child. I have always been in awe of his courage and commitment to advocate, challenge and lead in ways that would make life more fair for historically marginalized people. His life was a dedication in the pursuit of justice for everyone. To receive the inaugural 2022 ASU MLK Jr. Staff Servant-Leadership Award brings me exceptional humility and pride. I am indebted to many: the countless students and their parents who trusted my efforts; my community at large who always makes better; my colleagues and their selfless examples of creativity and support of education in Arizona; and my leadership, who allowed me to lead in various capacities and opportunities.
Q: How have your life experiences shaped you into the leader you are today?
A: Life has been very kind to me. While my upbringing was very modest, I’ve always been surrounded by love and support at every turn of my life. I’ve been fortunate to serve my community as an artist, an educator, a non-profit leader and an elected official. I’ve benefited greatly from government programs, scholarships and too many mentors to count. They’ve all given me the encouragement to know it was possible to live one’s dreams wide awake. I’ve done my best to ensure others have the same opportunities I’ve been fortunate to experience to ensure they too live out their dreams. And finally, Dr. King’s quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” always provides me amazing perspective. I’ve uttered that quote to myself many times.
Q: How have you incorporated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s values of service and inclusion in your everyday life?
A: One of my favorite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes is, “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.” To me, this is a question often on my mind. It’s not enough to enjoy our own comfort and inconvenience; it’s absolutely imperative that we do our best to diminish someone else’s challenges and face our own controversies with Dr. King’s example of moral courage, an unyielding pursuit of equality and inclusion of every member of our society. To me, that’s how we accomplish Dr. King’s dream. He told us he might not be able to see it, but we must keep working toward it.
Q: What has been your most memorable experience of helping others?
A: As a member of the Access ASU team, I was responsible for speaking and sharing with students and their parents, programs and resources that would ensure they would be college-going. Although this happened on several occasions, I am reminded of Luisa, a student I met in 2019 who was a senior at the time. She shared with me some financial burdens in attending ASU in the fall of 2019. I worked with her and shared various scholarship resources. A week before classes were to start, she messaged me and told me she received the scholarship I had shared with her. In 2020, I was doing a FAFSA drive-in event, and Luisa came to volunteer. She was working directly with students and helping them navigate the process. It all came back full circle. Luisa, and other students like her, are going to improve their communities with their determination and a little bit of help along the way. To play a small part in that equation simply ensures I am doing my best to give back for all that has been given to me.
Q: Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated to serve others?
A: Dr. King put it best: “The time is always right to do what is right.” Our community needs our best every day to mitigate the countless examples of oppression others face every day. We’ve all been blessed with talents and treasures and time to lend to others. We lose nothing in the process of giving to others; on the contrary, we gain so much. I am inspired to leave the world a little better than I found it. And lastly, I want my teenage daughter, Mia, to proudly point at me one day and say, “That man there, that’s my dad.”
Q: What advice would you give to future leaders here at ASU?
A: Every student, parent, community member and ASU member needs a word of encouragement. It’s important we provide those as often as possible. That is the only way we’ll be able to address the challenges we face as a community. That is the only way we’ll be able to honor Dr. King’s advice to all of us: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I am incredibly grateful to my friend and ASU leader Martine Garcia for nominating me; to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack for her tireless leadership and example in the world; and the entire ASU Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration committee for selecting me. To be included with Silvana Esparza and Dr. Neal Lester, two individuals I deeply admire and respect, makes this all that much more special. My heart is full with gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility to honor and continue the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.