On October 9th, Williamsburg non-profit coalition El Puente kicked off ‘¡PA’LANTE JUNTOS!’, a multi-day summit commemorating the 1st anniversary of its Green Light District program, with an art installation at the El Puente headquarters on 211 South 4th Street.
The evening’s event was coordinated by the Green Light District and SmArtAction, a student-led art exhibition of social activism at the University of Puerto Rico during the turmoil of 2010 and 2011 tuition hikes and program reductions. “Tonight we’re opening up the Summit with a connection to Puerto Rico,” El Puente founder Luis Garden Acosta said. “It’s about the struggle to save the University of Puerto Rico from barbaric cuts that continue to gouge at its ability to be the kind of outstanding institution in the Caribbean that it’s always been.”
The summit continues through the week with numerous programs that support the Green Light District’s commitment to education, affordable living, environmental justice, community health, and the Arts.
“This is a milestone for all the work that we’ve done, and it needs to be celebrated and looked at so that we can plan on the best way forward,” added Acosta.
The smArtAction event was organized under the guidance of writer/curator Tina Orlandini and Anusha Venkataraman, the Director of the Green Light District initiative.
Among its various entities, El Puente is proud of the mosaic of participating cultures, including not just Puerto Rican and Dominican, but also Caucasian, African-American, Bangladeshi, Hasidic, and numerous other nationalities.
When Acosta founded El Puente in 1982, the Southside was one of the most notorious gang strongholds of New York City. “People were afraid to walk down the street, much less actually want to live here,” he recalled. “Thirty years ago, our impulse for bringing people together was because we’d lost 48 young people in one year. Back then, the challenges we faced in the neighborhood were crack cocaine, gang violence, the worst schools in the city, and the Hasidic-Latino tensions.”
Now, as Williamsburg became one of the most sought-after communities in New York, the challenges are reversed. The struggle now is for the Latino community to not get pushed out of the Southside by gentrification and skyrocketing housing costs.
The El Puente organization has grown to include numerous community-building endeavors in Williamsburg and Bushwick, among them the Academy for Peace and Justice (an A rated public high school), the Community Health and Environment Institute (CHE), El Puente Arts (EPA), and four after-school Leadership Centers for students in the community.
More information on the El Puente and the Green Light District summit can be found on their website, http://www.elpuente.us/index.html
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