By Dr. Jacqueline Lazu
From September 21st-23rd DePaul University honored the 50th anniversary of the Young Lords with a three-day conference celebrating the founding of the organization in Chicago during the summer of 1968. The former gang turned activist group was responding primarily to the systematic displacement of Puerto Ricans and other poor and working class communities from the desirable lakeside neighborhood of Lincoln Park and surrounding neighborhoods. At the same time, they anchored their politics and activism on the reality that these were in fact global changes taking place, not separated from centuries old colonial circumstance of Puerto Rico, first under Spanish rule, and then under the US. It was no accident that the Young Lords chose the 100th anniversary of El Grito de Lares to reorganize into a political organization. The organization would become a national and transnational movement, and a gateway to political consciousness around the issues of Puerto Rican self-determination, fair housing practices, police-community relations, health and financial equity for generations to follow.
On Friday, September 21st, the program began with a historical keynote conversation between José “Cha Cha” Jimenez, founder and president of the Young Lords, and Óscar López Rivera, former political prisoner and founder of the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago. This unprecedented public dialogue, brought together two of the leading figures in the history of activism in the Puerto Rican Diaspora, emerging from the late 1960s, early 1970s. The crowd of nearly 500 audience members witnessed a conversation that covered topics ranging from the 1940s and 1950s organizations of Puerto Rican migrant families, through the Division Street Uprisings, and the various takeovers that gave prominence to the work of the Young Lords, Hurricane Maria, the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico, women in the social movements, and reflections on contemporary and youth-led movements among others.
Saturday, September 22nd opened with a plenary delivered by Elaine Brown, former chairman of the National Black Panther Party, the organization that inspired much of the work of the Young Lords, and with whom they united briefly to form, the original Rainbow Coalition. Other panels of scholars, activists, artists and movement leaders explored issues of housing, youth activism, arts and culture, police brutality, family and legacies among other themes. The weekend also featured two exhibitions at the DePaul University’s John T. Richardson Library that highlighted the history of the organization in Lincoln Park, and the visual culture of the Young Lords.
The event culminated on Sunday, September 23rd when conference participants gathered l to celebrate the 150th commemoration of El Grito de Lares, Uprising of 1868. A Bombazo (Bomba jam session) was held at the DePaul Student Center featuring BUYA, as well as, at La Casita de Don Pedro, in the Humboldt Park Community featuring AfriCaribe.