El Puente is located in the Southside of Williamsburg, also known as Los Sures, in Brooklyn Community District 1. It is an old manufacturing district adjacent to the East River and at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. For much of its history, Southside has been shaped by its proximity to the water and Manhattan, as workers came both from abroad and across the river to work on its industrial waterfront. Although most industrial land use has faded away since the 1960s, this legacy is reflected in industrial buildings throughout the neighborhood, many of which have been converted into housing—often first as artists’ lofts, and then later as the area started to rapidly gentrify, as legal, market-rate apartments.
In the late 1940s, construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway demolished large sections of the neighborhood, cutting across the neighborhood and continues to be a strain on the local air quality. In the latter half of the 20th century, Southside became home to a sizable Puerto Rican community, lending the neighborhood its identity and the name "Los Sures." In the last 30 years, gentrification and rising rents have exerted displacement pressures on the community. A 2005 rezoning further facilitated gentrification through investments in new housing and open space along the river.
El Puente is a nonprofit human rights organization, founded in 1982 by Luis Garden Acosta who with the major support of co-founders Gino Maldonado and Frances Lucerna, brought together church leaders, artists, educators, health providers, and other community activists to stop the epidemic wave of violence in the community of Southside Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Over the years, El Puente has pioneered a national model for youth development alongside its headline accomplishments in overall community development. Grounded in a holistic approach to leadership development for young people and their families, El Puente bridges the worlds of health, education, and the arts with activism and community empowerment” (https://elpuente.us/history). In addition to the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, M.S. 50 Coty School, and its six Leadership Centers, it has launched a range of initiatives, and programs such as the El Puente Arts, Green Light District, Global Justice Institute, and El Puente Puerto Rico-LCAN (Latino Climate Action Network).
Mission and Guiding Principles
“El Puente’s mission is to inspire and nurture leaders for peace and justice. Its central focus, “see, judge and act,” is adopted from the Young Christian Worker movement and the legacy of the Young Lords Party (https://elpuente.us/history). Its mission is grounded in the following twelve principles:
- Development: Liberate the power of our human potential.
- Unity Through Diversity: Embrace who we are and affirm the many differences that strengthen and make our common humanity powerful.
- Mentoring: Be bridges of growth and empowerment to each other.
- Respect: Revere all life, our earth and the spirit of the universe.
- Holism: Thrive in the balance and unity of body, mind, spirit and community.
- Mastery: Be disciplined and strive for excellence of body, mind, spirit and community.
- Safety: Create relationships and environments free from physical, mental and social harm.
- Creativity: Be free to challenge what exists and explore a universe of beauty and possibility.
- Creating Community: Build bridges of personal relationships to advance the human condition wherever we are.
- Love and Caring: Nurture the life force of community by freely giving and sharing of ourselves for the good of others.
- Collective Self-Help: Use the human power of relationships to build, thrive and together “boldly go where no one has gone before.”
- Peace and Justice: Rise up for human rights, beauty, harmony, and the celebration of the sacred. (https://elpuente.us/twelve-principles)
Membership and Participation:
El Puente is a membership organization. Membership is a fundamental and unique process and practice at El Puente, where young people go through a structured orientation process of understanding the history and legacy of El Puente, understanding the roles and responsibility of being a part and member of the El Puente community and movement (as will be discussed in depth below).
In terms of direct services, El Puente directly serves close to 2,000 young people and their families. If you include the two community schools, M.S. 50 as well as the El Puente Academy, the Leadership Centers, and our work through the GLD (Green Light District) and some of its initiatives, it is probably close to 25-30,000 people a year. A lot of community organizing is probably reflected in those numbers, and maybe the number is even higher with major annual community events like the WEPA Festival, the Three Kings Festival, campaigns and our cultural work at Moore Street- La Marqueta. That's not even taking into account the island-wide work of El Puente Puerto Rico- LCAN (Latino Climate Action Network.)
El Puente’s Board of Directors is diverse and includes a broad base of members of the community, former El Puente members/staff as well as experts from different fields related to the organization’s programs and social justice initiatives. The Board meets quarterly however they also participate in strategic planning, fundraising events and social justice campaigns (https://elpuente.us/board-of-directors).
Annual Budget and Funding Sources:
El Puente has an annual budget of 4 million. Its funding sources include: federal, state and city grants; foundation support; corporate and individual donors.
Coalitions and Partnerships:
As an organization, El Puente has played a role, first, as part of the think tank around whether it’s arts or whether it's AIDS or whether it's the environment, and then become part of a founding team of organizations to form those kinds of coalitions and alliances. It is a founding organization of the New York Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA), and the Natural Occurring Cultural Districts Coalition (NOCD-NY). It is a founding member of the Hispanic Federation, which is a national Latinx organization and the Latino Commission on AIDS.
El Puente has been part of a national guide team around youth development. [Frances Lucerna] sat on the President's Committee for Arts and Humanities to talk about community-based arts and culture back in the 90s, and on numerous advisory boards to include the Mayor’s citywide advisory board on community schools. [She’s] served on the NYC DOE diversity committee team to look at access and equity in city public schools, and was part of a think tank hosted by a coalition of foundations to look at cultural diversity in the city with other cultural leaders which was part of the process for NYC’s Cultural Plan.
El Puente is on the list with the State Department in terms of visits with people from different countries, who primarily come to learn about our work community development work. There's been a great interest in terms of the community development aspect of our work from the standpoint of our commitment to self-determination and empowerment. We have had people from Uruguay, Paraguay, Europe and Africa. A group from Germany keeps coming back every year. We even hosted a group from France who were interested in our work with community, and then we had the opportunity to go to Paris to talk about our work with agencies there. We realized that there was no equivalent for community empowerment work in France; they have a whole different kind of system. So this idea of community led, community based work just like blew them away. Clara Parker, Director of our Global Justice Institute, was part of a delegation that went to Paris, France, to meet with people and policymakers to talk about that kind of work and the work that we were doing here in New York City.
El Puente has operated from the beginning from its headquarters, located in Los Sures, at 211 South 4th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (as will be discussed further below). However, it’s six Leadership Centers and the two public community schools are located in different areas of Williamsburg and Bushwick.
When and how did you join the organization?
My experience in the community growing up as a teenager was getting involved in liberation theology at a church (Transfiguration), which was a real hub of liberation theology in Brooklyn with several other churches and pastors that were part of a cohort of parish priests. They were all about the connection of social justice and spirituality. That was my formative years growing up, and that’s where I met Gino, and that's where I met Luis. From 14 to 17, I worked in the community, I worked in storefronts, and I worked on voter registration. I actually worked with a Montessori teacher who opened up a Montessori classroom in a tenement in Williamsburg. It was the most remarkable experience I had, and I really think that was how I got into education. My degree from college was education as well as dance.
Dance was my declaration of liberation for myself. I made the decision to actually pursue dance seriously, which quite honestly was unheard of. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, women had very limited and defined roles. You became a teacher or a nurse, a secretary, but a dancer? No, and particularly coming from my own roots, I mean from Williamsburg, the daughter of a father who immigrated here from the Philippines and my mom, who is Puerto Rican, I grew up in a context of women having very limited and specific roles. As I reflect on my life’s journey, I guess that kind of defiance and breaking out started when I was a very young child. Right now it doesn’t sound like stepping out, but it certainly was then.
I decided to go off and continue to pursue dance, which I did professionally for almost 10 years. It was really rewarding in terms of nurturing my own spirit. I was so glad that I did that. It was like going on a journey of self- discovery in a world that I had never imagined. But there was always something pulling at me. In 1980, I had an injury. When I came back to do some recouping, I was asked if I would teach a class of young girls who were part of a summer youth employment program, and I did, and that was it. I really found my vocation. I got free space in a gymnasium in a NYCHA community Center, and started this modern dance program for girls, because young men in our community did not dance at that time. Then I had many sessions with parents, with mothers particularly, over coffee and crackers to explain to them what modern dance is and what their daughters would be doing in this gymnasium twice a week. It was an amazing experience and I still have relationships with those young women, they are still in my life. That eventually became an arts and dance program. My brother who was an artist taught fine arts. We got a small NYSCA grant and became the Williamsburg Arts and Cultural Council for Youth, one of the first pre- professional arts programs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
At that time, Los Sures were decimated -- no infrastructure, all of the community institutions were totally in disrepair. The community looked like it was bombed out. We had the epidemic of drugs, and violence that was really at a peak. It was at this time that Luis Garden Acosta, who was the administrator of the emergency room at Greenpoint Hospital, saw young people coming in and dying in his emergency room. There were 48 young people who died in 1980 in our community, and that really moved him to say something needed to be done. So what he did was to ask around to see people he could bring to the table. And I was running my arts program at that time, and Gino was at the LDC, Los Sures. He knew all of us, and so he brought us all together, and that's how I became involved.
We all shared the same story in the sense that in our formative years we had an understanding of and were committed to our spirituality linked to social justice and community development. We came to an understanding of community development from the perspective of self- determination and our right and responsibility, in terms of growing our community, fighting for our community, and certainly, bringing more equity. Luis was hoping to integrate my arts program into the fabric of El Puente and I did. I later came on staff in 1985.
From the very beginning, we were very clear that what we were creating El Puente to defy that sort of social service mentality and ‘clinicalization’ of our people and all the notions of “being less than” that that has been and is part of the construct of oppression that is internalized by all of us through the school system or the social service system, particularly in communities like Los Sures. These racist systems that represent and perpetuate in a very real way the impression about where power lies, where success lies, what success looks like, what authority and leadership look like, but that is not us and certainly not accessible to us.
That perspective of self- empowerment has been formalized in even how we interview and bring people on board. By and large most people who come to work at El Puente know what they're coming on board to be part of. From that to really understanding and really being able to integrate and be part of our community-led movement is another story. That, again, has been our responsibility in terms of the intentionality regarding training, support and mentoring of staff from the very beginning. So I would say that El Puente is still very grassroots.
I think the greatest challenge to that concept was when we created the El Puente Academy in 1993 because we were working within the construct of the institution of “school” and the Department of Education (DOE) which has its own, professional construct and requirements. I think the incredible thing we did was that we came at creating a school, not from the perspective of professional educators, but as community organizers. We said, if it's going to be an El Puente school, and if what we are here to create is a model that defies a system that has been totally and completely bankrupt, in terms of systemic racism, oppression and everything else, then it's got to be led by El Puente people. So, what we did was to basically, myself included, go ahead and professionalize ourselves. I went back and got a Masters in Educational Leadership from Bank Street College so that I could be a certified principal; John Matunis and others already had their Masters degrees, and everyone got State certified. Our credentials just gave us the legitimacy to be able to be in positions to do what we needed to do, and that's what we did --from guidance counselors to teachers, to myself, being the principal. I think along the way, and at this moment in time, that's still the practice, but it is still the challenge in terms of having people who have applied to teaching positions. And of course, the staff is unionized. So, we're talking about a lot of very complicated constructs that we're working with, but regardless making it clear that what they are going to sign up for is just not your standard concept of a public school. It’s really a school that is driven by a community driven legacy of self- determination and a commitment to a specific mission and set of fundamental principles. Throughout the years, we've struggled with that, and I think the standard idea of professionalism and having people who come with an institutional professional mindset has been most challenging in the Academy for obvious reasons. But still, there is that which is non-negotiable. Emphasizing and being mindful of what is non-negotiable with regard to our principles and our mission is really what I think has allowed us to deal with those challenges and still be the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice. We are and continue to be committed to education for liberation and being a model for community led education.
Foundation and Evolution over time
One of the things from early on was the unique way the leadership collective was put together. It is this holistic approach to community development that to us was very clear, that education couldn’t be separated from arts and culture or from a totally lived experience in community and what was impacting us. From our own formative experiences we had an understanding of how important it was to really engage young people in whatever is their passion –in my case dance or the arts – in forming their own path of growth, development and transformation, but also to use that context to see how they could use that passion to impact ad make change in the community. This was something that resonated deeply for me as it did for Luis and Gino.
The issue of environmental justice came from recognizing the issue of the deterioration of the community in terms of its physical infrastructure, the fact that we had no trees in the community at all. There was nothing green in this community, let alone there was nothing built in this community, it was rubble, and so the issue of environment and the issue of what that meant for our community was pretty clear. And we were working with young people who were living in the community and observing this also. The trigger to this whole environmental movement actually came out of a class that we had at El Puente at the time. We didn't have the Academy yet, and it was a GED class where these young people were taking their last credits towards graduation, a science class, and they were out in the community exploring, as they always did, and it happened to be actually on the street where Luis and I lived. They saw some gook in a stream of water in the street, and that turned out to be excess from a glue factory that was in the community right across the street from our house. It was these same young people who became nationally known as El Puente’s “Toxic Avengers” that actually uncovered Radiac, because they went down to Kent Avenue and saw a building that had this very “strange sign” on it. It was actually a sign that meant radioactive. They were the ones who came back and alerted us, and the rest is history. We followed up on it, and then that was a trigger for us to really start to activate this issue of what this facility was and the danger it posed in our community.
Other things also happened. There was just a string of events. They were doing a rehab of the Williamsburg Bridge and removing paint off the bridge without any protective covering. All of that lead paint was spewing into the community. That triggered a response from us when we saw what was going on, made the connection, started to inform the community and organize. This led to a real understanding of how and why things like this happen in our community, and what has been the impact on our community residents. I think that's where that whole movement started, and it certainly was within the bailiwick of Luis as a public health person to really start to focus on that.
At that time, Luis focused on the development of our health/wellness program that was later called CHE (Community health and environment) unit. We actually had health practitioners from hospitals and his network that came and volunteered at El Puente. It was a very robust component of El Puente where we were doing medical screenings for all of our young people. We were also doing a lot of public health work and education around issues of nutrition and diabetes, asthma, and a lot of training of young people around the issue of alternative health practices. At that point, we were starting to look at alternatives to medicine and treatments. We began to explore what is natural in terms of healing and the healing practices that we have embedded in our culture. It was the connection to what we were seeing and experiencing in terms of flagrant environmental issues, poor health conditions and lack of quality health care in the community that really started our health/wellness and environmental justice movement.
The campaign to close Radiac, a storage facility for harmful toxic and radioactive materials one block from a community elementary school also became a focus and the Toxic Avengers rose to prominence out of that. They became a national rage that inspired young people throughout the country to think about their communities and become active. That gave sort of the entree for the kind of organizing that certainly Luis led with the coalition of bringing the different ethnic communities within our community, even the Hasidic community, the African-American community, Latino community, and even the Greenpoint Italian American community around this issue of looking at the dangerous environmental issues in our community and the health and safety issues that were connected to them.
Radiac was one movement, and on the heels of Radiac came the incinerator. And that was connected to what we now know was a major community struggle to stop the building of a 55story incinerator in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was a legislated item and it was going to happen, and the powers that be were trying to tell us that this was going to be good for the economics of our community, of course. That, I think, was really the spark for this historical movement and coalition that people were writing about, which was called CAFE, the Community Alliance for the Environment. CAFE was led by Luis and Rabbi Niederman, an unlikely sort of partnership given the history of struggle in our community. However, it worked and led a massive and powerful campaign that brought in elected officials, environmental lawyers, and so many people from all sectors. But most important was that it brought the whole community together that historically had been at odds- particularly the Latino and Hasidic communities. Luis and Rabbi Niederman symbolically walking the streets of Los Sures together in one of the demonstrations was really a powerful symbol of this. That happened for Radiac and that happened for the incinerator, both of which I think are iconic environmental justice campaigns and struggles that I know many people still read about and learn from.
That was not separate and disconnected from everything else that we did; the arts and artists were very involved in those campaigns, the visual artists, the performing artists, as well as health and wellness components. It became part of the curriculum and part of our project-based learning in the Academy, in the Leadership Centers, there was really this kind of cohesiveness of how and which way we were moving and developing our holistic development model. At that time, we also started the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, which opened up the frontier of the community led school reform movement.
In the early 90’s we started looking at the issue of health and wellness in our community and began a Curandera Movement, where we would train neighborhood women, mostly mothers to be “curanderas” (Spanish for healers who use traditional herbal remedies), to be health advocates in the community. They were part of a research project looking at respiratory diseases in the community. There were all these initiatives that were happening simultaneously that I think was a predecessor to where and how the Green Light District (GLD) emerged in 2011, when we were looking at the issue of gentrification and thinking about how to flip the narrative from one of being disempowered to one of reclaiming our power. That then was our symbolism for a green light- giving ourselves permission to say, ‘We are here, we're not going anywhere, and we have a history of making change in this community and we will continue to do that.’ That was the genesis of the Green Light District initiative at the height of gentrification and what was happening to our community at the time.
Membership Process and Youth Development
Membership is really our signature practice at El Puente, and from the very beginnings, set us apart from other youth development organizations. Over time, it became a more structured process by which young people commit to their own holistic development and growth, both personally and as a leader of El Puente. They commit to being mentored, they commit to being active and proactive in the struggle for social justice. Young people interested on becoming members participate in an orientation (in some cases, the orientation could be a week, and in some cases a couple of weeks), where they go through facilitated activities to learn about what El Puente membership entails and what they're going to commit themselves to before they actually sign a membership contract in very community initiation ceremony/ritual. Parents, Elders and staff of El Puente are there for the initiation of new members. We've done that with elementary school students at our Beacon program, as well as our high school students, we've done it with youth leaders at El Puente who are going through tiers of membership. We have tiers for membership from beginning to advance where young people then represent and lead the organization initiatives because they have gone through a certain set of training and competencies and are also recommended by their mentors in terms of their commitment and demonstrated leadership at El Puente membership.
Over the 40 years, the membership process has been structured to accommodate the diverse programs that we have and making it age appropriate where it might be as structured. But certainly there are those non- negotiable aspects about the way in which young people are supported and the way in which they commit to their own development at El Puente. This translates into the activities that they are involved in, everything from mentoring sessions, leadership development sessions, educational support, health and wellness, arts for social change and artistic development as well as their role in our social justice campaigns as participants or leaders.
El Puente’s Membership Model links youth development with community development and culture. We were very much involved in creating and formalizing youth and community development field nationally in the early late 80s, early 90s. Luis and I were part of a national guide team for the creating a national construct for youth development. We spent three summers as part of a think tank with people from all over the country who were involved in youth development. What Luis and I brought to that work was the idea of youth development not being separate, but definitely connected to community development, and also this idea of holistic development and holistic leadership development that spoke very powerfully to our membership process.
The membership process is just not for young people; it’s for all of us. We all are members of El Puente movement, and I have been very, very committed to the process of rites of passage, and initiation of leaders at El Puente in a very formal and ritualistic way. That's really being very clear about, first and foremost, the honoring of Elders and the recognition of Elders in this legacy, because we do talk powerfully about El Puente’s legacy in the struggle for liberation and social justice. It goes along with what we are very clearly committed to in terms of our mission and creating a just and equitable world. This is a legacy that members who come into El Puente, the young people, now are part of. They don't inherit it; they are part of it and responsible for contributing to it. And an important part of our process is the respected role of Elders who have the responsibility to be mentors and guides on the journey by sharing their wisdom and lived experience. That I think is very much part of our culture and tradition. I think it's a sacred responsibility. I certainly see it as my responsibility to nurture and ‘anoint’ those who are now part of El Puente’s Elders’ Circle. There's something profound that comes with that recognition. They have earned that role and the place of honor as an elder in our legacy and our movement, I know that this community tradition has been very powerful in the sustainability of our El Puente movement. There are Elders that I am mentoring right now, and that has been my focus and my commitment in the last four or five years in the development of El Puente’s Global Justice Institute (GJI). The GJI has been my commitment to formalizing and documenting the practices, mindsets, values and ideology that we have nurtured and developed over the last four decades so that it's not lost, but thoughtfully processed and articulated in the way that then can be transferred to future leaders of El Puente and shared with other practitioners, organizations and communities globally.
Grassroots Women and Women’s Leadership
I would say the majority of our leadership, staff and program participants now are women. We work with mothers and women of all ages. In our community work and our coalition building, a lot of the participants are women. I think of really dramatic stories of personal transformation for women who have been part of our initiatives, like the GLD, like the Curanderas and our arts and cultural organizing work. Definitely, women are the powerful majority.
A women’s perspective is deeply rooted in El Puente’s approach. Since the early beginnings, there was always that element of my own path of really being able to integrate this idea of love and caring and nurturing as essential in a person’s journey of transformation. These practices were looked at marginally as that kind of soft and fuzzy sentiment but I didn't experience or understand it that way. It's because of my own lived experience as a dancer and as an artist, that I understood the importance of creating a space that was nurturing and embracing in which young people could really feel safe enough to be able to explore who they were, to really be able to ask questions, and actually have deep and meaningful relationships with adult mentors. That was my own experience and clearly how I came to developing the culture and practice at El Puente, Love and caring, safety and respect are essential in creating a space where young people can explore and deeply own their own journey and as I always talked about find their passion, purpose and power. These three elements have really become to me what El Puente is all about. It is being able to provide, not only, the young people, but also the leaders, the staff, and particularly our women, the space to be able to claim their passion or even find their passion. That usually was out of the construct of what we were conditioned to think as women, what we were allowed to be. But to be able to not only be in a space where we could explore but more important speak the language of passion, that is just something else.
I think it's within our nature as women to create. And that's not to say that it isn't for men, but I think there is something very deep and profound about creating. We do that with our bodies, and I think we do that powerfully in the context of love and caring. It's always about creating and creating. That to me it speaks to the issue of purpose and how you use your passion- how does your passion drive you or lead you to deeply understand your purpose in a larger context, and within that context find your power.
I think that was interesting and powerful aspect of the partnership between Luis and I was that the dimension of the language that Luis spoke and the language that I spoke, and what was quite dynamic and I think beautiful was how eventually our individual languages became one language. My language is always around love and caring and spirit, and I think that that's another dimension. We have conversations about this dimension of spirit, not as a concept, but actually as a practice that is totally and completely integrated in how and in which way we approach all of the work that we do and how it’s linked to our social justice work and our community development work particularly through the GLD. It’s that lens and context that’s like, “whoa,” wait a minute. What is that? What is it that we're talking about? That was really a ‘aha’ moment for many people in the early thinking of GLD, as it has continued to be. When I started the El Puente Academy and I was talking about love and, caring and that certainly drew a reaction, but when I talked about spirit, it was sort of like the conversation stopper and made people pause and think.
It was the aspect of our practice that educators and people that we spoke to and who visited the Academy were very interested in. That was the foundation upon which we and certainly I was clear about developing a school- this experience of learning in community that was informed by the community. And you can't speak of that experience being led by the community and grounded in the values of community and culture and not speak about the spirit- that which I think makes us human, right? That's what connects us all and gives us this commonality. This dimension and that language, that practice, that intentionality in developing institutions like a school was not even understood or heard of. And yet it was so natural and fundamental to how and in which way we approached creating the foundation for creating a school that nurtured this culture where young people could come and deeply experience their totality and have a transformative experience of themselves. It's the ability and opportunity for a young person through the arts, in the celebration of the spirit and in a space of love and caring, to have the unique experience of nurturing an inner life and having “an affair with their soul”. This is the transformative aspect of our model and work.
Major accomplishments and challenges
I think a day to day challenge is certainly in terms of administration and management, policies and procedures and protocols that are necessary for running an efficient organization, but really being able to make sure that those are consistent with our principles and our mission. That I think is our greatest challenge. But what I feel the most proud of in terms of our vigilance and dedication to that. Even in a moment like this, when we are forced to lay people off or make difficult and painful adjustments, to hear back from our staff, many of whom are very new to the organization and/or a leadership position, that they appreciate and acknowledge our efforts to maintain a space of integrity, respect - they use, words like that - love, caring, compassion is extremely affirming.
Another challenge is always the challenge of sustainability in terms of funding. There is just no reason and it becomes more and more exasperating, as to why community based organizations like El Puente, which are the essential infrastructure to community sustainability, to all that is going to be needed for recovery and resilience of our community are not adequately funded and supported. We're the front line and we are the essential workers here. And yet, we are constantly dealing with the fact that there is little to no flexible funding for capacity building and general operating support from the government and foundation. It just not right. There has to be another way to think about community-based organizations. I think community-based organizations at some level have to be considered in the same way as big institutions that are funded as line items by the government so that they get the kind of funding that supports capacity building and infrastructure. That's where and how organizations can grow and thrive. What we are always struggling with is that most of our funding is for programs, and not for that kind of capacity building and infrastructure that will allow us to really flourish in a sustainable way.
Plans/vision for future and key factors for long-term sustainability of the organization:
Certainly, in this pandemic, the resurrection and the reinstatement of the Curandera program is going to be really important in terms of training and nurturing community health advocates. They will be trusted, culturally grounded wellness advocates that are part of the community and can engage residents as neighbors. And in addition many of them are going to be women. We just know this because this grassroots movement has been traditionally women led. I believe that this is what this moment of healing, recovery and resilience is calling for in so many fundamental ways. So, I've been focused directly on reinvesting in our Wellness center. Along with that is the incorporation of our cultural healing practices and that's what the Curanderas do. There's so much wisdom we have as part of our DNA around our power to heal our bodies and our spirit, from herbs that our elders share in terms of teas and remedies to an understanding of the power of mindfulness and meditation. It is just part of how we grew up. I think that we need to move and shift our mindset regarding healing as we always have been doing. Our challenge is that it is something that our people do, but it's not [called] medicine, and we all know it is medicine. It's bringing that back now, particularly in light of what we understand in terms of vulnerability and underlying conditions that have made our community and our people more vulnerable to the virus in this pandemic. We're very committed to invest and grow that and in the organization, as well.
I think part of that also is being very transparent about the sacred, and I think that's something that is clearly part of who we are in terms of our DNA, our cultural heritage and our roots. It is the intentional acknowledgment of the sacred and the spirit in community that been and continues to be very much an essential part of the fabric of El Puente, the foundation of everything that we do.
- PBS documentary “Earth Keeping” https://vimeo.com/237610381
- Justice Matters interview: Frances Lucerna NYC Williamburg, Brooklyn The art of El Puente https://youtu.be/cQOc5wwX-zk
- El Puente Over the Years Video: https://vimeo.com/136736599
- See Vimeo account for more videos https://vimeo.com/elpuente
- Randy Shaw (2013) The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century. U.C. California Press.
- Jason Coburn (2005) Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice. MIT Press.