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 was 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.
Read the rest here.