Born in 1945, Luis Garden Acosta grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Pennsylvania at age 15, and subsequently earned a college degree before beginning a year in seclusion to prepare himself for life as a Catholic priest. Acosta’s plans changed, however, when he heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver a speech that motivated him (Acosta) to become a political activist instead. Acosta left the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer without taking his final vows, and became a Catholic antiwar organizer in Brooklyn. Also in the late 1960s, Acosta served as an organizer/planner in the administration of New York City mayor John Lindsay.
In 1969 Acosta joined the Young Lords Party (YLP), a violent revolutionary street gang that was the Puerto Rican equivalent of the Black Panthers. Acosta professed his allegiance to YLP’s “13 Point Program and Platform” which was founded on the premise that: “For 500 years, first spain and then united states have colonized our country…. In every way we are slaves of the gringo.” (The lower-case spellings of both countries’ names were intentional, designed to convey TLP’s contempt for Western cultures.) This seminal YLP document also stated:
In 1970, Acosta decided to study medicine and enrolled at Harvard University. Three years later, he relocated to Amherst, Massachusetts to work as a substance-abuse counselor. He also began hosting a five-minute radio program of Latin-American news; eventually this led to a three-hour prime-time program which he hosted.
Acosta returned to New York in 1980 to work as an administrator at Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Hospital and to syndicate his radio program. But he quickly became so distressed by the violence he witnessed in his new neighborhood, that he put his broadcasting career on hold and founded a “community/youth development organization” called El Puente (Spanish for “The Bridge”) in 1982.
Eleven years later, Acosta established a high school called the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, which was (and still is) heavily focused on political activism. Shortly before the Academy opened its doors for the first time, Acosta told Newsday that the school would be “not just about reading and writing and math, but … also about wellness, career development, housing, racial justice, and peace.” One of the courses offered at El Puente, “Hip Hop 101,” discusses hip hop music and break dancing, and teaches students how to create “graffiti art.” In a 1998 exposé of Acosta’s school, Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather Mac Donald wrote: “El Puente evaluates students on their commitment to ‘social and economic justice’. The students have demonstrated such commitment by protesting a local incinerator as ‘environmental racism’; as part of El Puente’s after-school program, they will soon staff a center intended to help the garment workers’ union, UNITE, organize workers.” Moreover, Mac Donald noted the “glaring educational deficiencies” of El Puente’s students, whose average SAT scores “lagged far behind the city’s already abysmal average.”
El Puente was a major force in New York’s antiwar (and anti-Bush) demonstrations prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom in the early 2000s. Indeed, Acosta led his young students’ participation in protests where the featured speakers routinely condemned the United States as a “racist,” “imperialist,” and “evil” nation. One New York publication observed that El Puente and other local groups had “joined forces with each other and with national organizations such as United for Peace and Justice, the [International] A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition, and Code Pink for Peace.”
In addition to his work with El Puente, Acosta has also served as: (a) vice chairman of the Citizens Union; (b) founding chairman of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice; (c) a member of New York State’s Environmental Board; and (d) a leading board member of such organizations as New Yorkers for Parks, Just Food, the Latino Commission on Aids, and the Research Alliance for New York City Schools.
Further Reading: “Quest for Peace: Luis Garden Acosta Has Always Worked Toward One Goal” (NY Daily News, 11-29-1999); “Since the ’60s, a Place on the Ramparts” (NY Times, 1-23-2009); “An F for Hip-Hop 101 (Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, Summer 1998); “Young Lords Party 13-Point Program and Platform” (Palante.org, 1969).