My Reflections on the Young Lords and Why They Matter More Than Ever

Dec 23, 2018
12:37 pm

The first time I heard about the Young Lords, I was in graduate school. I was entirely too grown to be hearing about what seemed like an important part of my Latinx history in the United States. In this book (which I cannot even recall), the Young Lords were mentioned briefly for about a paragraph or two in an ethics books. From that brief mention, I remember two things: they were referred to as a gang that turned towards social services during the Civil Rights era, and they helped Black and Brown communities in the hood by providing services like food and child services.

I have developed various theories around why I had not heard of the Young Lords earlier, one being that socialism, for better or for worse, has left a bad imprint in our elders’ generation. Therefore, a group who lauded themselves as socialists were rejected by some in our communities. Another reason being colorism within our communities. The Young Lords’ leadership was full of Afro-Latinx who aggressively demanded progress, with a paramilitary structure—things that were outside of the upstanding immigrant narrative that wss jammed down many of our throats.

The history of the People’s Church takes place during the 1960s and 70s. Once the Young Lords Party gained recognition in Chicago, a group of young Latinx from New York City went to Chicago to learn about them and establish a Young Lords charter in Harlem. In NYC, a group known as La Sociedad de Albizu Campos, or La Sociedad, eventually became the Young Lords East Coast branch.  They started out by picking up garbage around the neighborhood, as sanitation services seemed to conveniently skip their neighborhoods. So the Young Lords took to picking up the garbage and transporting it to more wealthier areas in protest, and setting it all on fire in the middle of the streets. They also took over a church known as the First Spanish United Methodist Church in order to provide much-needed services to the public, like childcare for working-poor families. The concept was always about bringing the people the resources, instead of making people go out of their way to get services.

The Young Lords Party set their sights on a 13-point program. These are just a few:

We want self-determination for all Latinos.
“Our Latin Brothers and Sisters, inside and outside the united states, are oppressed by amerikkkan business. The Chicano people built the Southwest, and we support their right to control their lives and their land. The people of Santo Domingo continue to fight against gringo domination and its puppet generals. The armed liberation struggles in Latin America are part of the war of Latinos against imperialism.”

We want liberation of all third world people.
“Just as Latins first slaved under spain and the yanquis, Black people, Indians, and Asians slaved to build the wealth of this country. For 400 years they have fought for freedom and dignity against racist Babylon (decadent empire). Third World people have led the fight for freedom. All the colored and oppressed peoples of the world are one nation under oppression.”

We believe armed self-defense and armed struggle are the only means to liberation.
“We are opposed to violence—the violence of hungry children, illiterate adults, diseased old people, and the violence of poverty and profit. We have asked, petitioned, gone to courts, demonstrated peacefully, and voted for politicians full of empty promises. But we still ain’t free. The time has come to defend the lives of our people against repression and for revolutionary war against the businessman, politician, and police. When a government oppresses our people, we have the right to abolish it and create a new one.”

We are revolutionary nationalists and oppose racism.
“The Latin, Black, Indian and Asian people inside the u.s. are colonies fighting for liberation. We know that washington, wall street and city hall will try to make our nationalism into racism; but Puerto Ricans are of all colors and we resist racism. Millions of poor white people are rising up to demand freedom and we support them. These are the ones in the u.s. that are stepped on by the rules and the government. We each organize our people, but our fights are against the same oppression and we will defeat it together.”

All these tenets of the Young Lords Party were progressive for that time, and these points continue to be progressive even to this day.

The Young Lords Party continued to evolve during this time and they even made real attempts to address their own internalized biases against race, colorism (specifically in Latinx churches), misogyny, and homophobia. However, this group, like many other Civil Rights groups around this time, disbanded due to targeted attempts to arrest them, kill them, and in-fighting—ALL spurred by the FBI, who saw them as too big of a threat to allow them to exist.

As I mentioned earlier, I learned about the Young Lords while obtaining my Master of Divinity at Vanderbilt Divinity School, where I also became close friends with a lot of Latinx awaiting ordination in various denominations. And now, three years out, one of my peers has been placed in what was once the People’s Church. Senior pastor Dorlimar Lebrón Malavé is the Puerto Rican-born queer activist who has the honor of overseeing the congregants of this historic church.

Site of what was once the People’s Church in NYC (Photo by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez)

Lebrón was born in Río Piedras, PR, and raised in Brooklyn. She comes from three generations of clergy in her family, and even recently discovered that a late uncle was also part of The People’s Church. She is a third-generation Methodist. Prior to graduate school, Lebrón attended City College and graduate in 2015, with a sociology major and a Black and Latino studies minor.

She has set her sights on reclaiming this space she has been placed in, and as a long-time community organizer herself, Lebrón has a huge task ahead of her. In 2019, the church will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Young Lords’ takeover. According to Lebrón, it is the task of the church to address social injustices, because it is what Jesus would have wanted, because “Jesus thought those things were wrong too.”

We can only be so lucky to see what this new generation of resisters will look like. I also hope that we continue to uphold and celebrate (and be critical) of this crucial part of our history.

¡Que viva la gente!

Featured image: Young Lords Party logo by Qzonkos.

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Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez is a grassroots foreign citizen, maneuvering and resisting assimilation and respectability politics through what she calls her a chonga Mujerista ethic. She is the founder of Latina Rebels, an online platform that boasts over 200K followers. She is from Managua, Nicaragua, currently living in Nashville. Prisca has written for Philadelphia Printworks, TeleSur English, SupaDaily Latin, Huffington Post Latino Voices and other publications. Her interests are within biopolitics as it relates to Latina embodiment, specifically concerning models of conquerable flesh around narratives of naturalization for women of color. ¡Que viva la mujer!