El Puente is a community human rights institution that promotes leadership for peace and justice through the engagement of members (youth and adult) in the arts, education, scientific research, wellness and environmental action. Founded in 1982 by Luis Garden Acosta, El Puente currently integrates the diverse activities and community campaigns of its Center for Arts and Culture and its Green Light District & Community Wellness Program within its four neighborhood Leadership Centers, and its nationally recognized public high school, the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice. Organizing in North Brooklyn and beyond, El Puente remains at the forefront of community/youth learning and development issues and as such, initiates and impacts social policy both locally and nationally.
El Puente Leadership Centers
El Puente operates four multifaceted Leadership Centers in North Brooklyn. Using a holistic approach to leadership training, El Puente’s signature Membership Model for youth and community development integrates social action within a bilingual comprehensive, skill-based program that includes: academic enrichment, performing and visual arts, sports, health and wellness, one to one mentoring and internships. Youth and adult members of the El Puente Leadership Centers engage in community development projects as well as citywide/national social justice campaigns that support and develop their leadership and have a sustainable impact on global issues as expressed in El Puente’s Platform for Human Rights.
El Puente Arts
Frances Lucerna, El Puente’s Co-founder, Artistic and current Executive Director, has led El Puente to become the most comprehensive Latino Center for Arts and Culture in Brooklyn.Integrating the Williamsburg Art and Culture Council for Youth (which she founded in 1980) and with the support of the Johnny Colon East Harlem Music School, Frances developed a premier pre-professional community arts institution that trained and mentored members who have gone on to professional careers as visual and performing artists to include three who have garnered Broadway’s highest tribute, the “Tony Award”. Today, El Puente members continue to engage in an array of arts and cultural programs including dance, drama, voice, media arts, visual arts/public arts, and hip-hop. El Puente teaching artists working in partnering neighborhood schools and in El Puente Leadership Centers create quality collaborative theme-based projects and presentations that promote human rights and social action. Recently El Puente awarded three of its youth artists a Van Lier Fellowship (funded by The New York Community Trust), providing them with a two-year scholarship to support extensive and intensive professional training, coaching and mentoring in the arts. El Puente Arts also produces a robust presenting season that includes performances and cultural events featuring new and recognized local andinternational artists as well as the work of our resident youth companies, to include the El Puente Dance Ensemble, Teatro El Puente, and Los Muralistas de El Puente. Addressing the issue of sustainability and community cultural vibrancy, El Puente Arts created CADRE – Community Artists’ Development and Resource Exchange. CADRE is a diverse coalition that has become a platform for primarily local Latino and other artists of color to network and collaborate on projects as well as create and facilitate strategies that will grow and sustain their capacity to lead and contribute to the unique cultural community of North Brooklyn.
El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice
El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice is an A-rated public high school established in 1993 in partnership with the NYC Dept. of Education as part of a school reform initiative launchedby New Visions for Public School. El Puente, guided by the leadership of Frances Lucerna, the Academy’s Founding Principal, was the first community-based organization in New York State to create a public school and is a nationally recognized model for culturally competent, values- based, community driven education. The El Puente Academy for Peace & Justice, the first public high school for human rights in America, has received widespread recognition and many awards for its innovation and leadership in culturally relevant/standards based curriculum and assessment, arts integration, and character/leadership development. In 2003, the Academy was recognized by the Department of Education’s Chancellor as one of New York City’s 200 Schools of Excellence and remains among NYC’s A-rated schools. In 2009, it was recognized for achieving the highest 1 year graduation rate increase among Brooklyn High Schools. The Academy is highlighted in the Eisenhower Foundation report, “What Works: Public School Reform” and is currently part of a Stanford University Study sponsored by Linda Darling Hammond researching best practices in schools focused on social emotional development and social justice. It is also part of the NYC DOE’S Expanded Success Initiative focused on the academic success of Latino and African American male students.
El Puente Green Light District (GLD) & Community Wellness Programs
Envisioned by El Puente’s founder, Luis Garden Acosta, the GLD is El Puente’s 10-year initiative to complete the holistic transformation of the Southside of Williamsburg from one of the most challenged neighborhoods in New York City to a more equitable, healthy and green community - one that nurtures and sustains its own wellness in areas that include the environment, green spaces, personal health, educational equity, and arts & cultural vibrancy. The GLD has its roots in El Puente’s legacy of Community Wellness programming; ranging from our Community Health & Environment Institute (CHE), the successor to El Puente’s Medical, Alternative and Sexual Health Unit (MASH), the first adolescent, primary diagnostic and referral clinic in North Brooklyn, to a variety of federally funded research and community action projects directed at addressing issues of community health and environmental justice. In the fall of 2011, the GLD launched the initiative in a community celebration of over 300 residents and citywide supporters where they presented twelve community driven declarations outlining a vision for “equitable and just community sustainability and wellness”. These declarations have been the foundation for the creation of several GLD nurtured and inspired community coalitions that are researching, planning, facilitating and assessing strategies for equitable and sustainable holistic development in the Southside of Williamsburg.
Latino Climate Action Network (LCAN)
The mission of LCAN is drawn from the mission of El Puente “to inspire and nurture leaders for peace and justice”. Specifically, El Puente seeks to empower Latinos (Puerto Rico and Stateside) to build 21st century community sustainability through holistic preparedness plans that integrate climate change strategies in the context of culture, education equity and social justice. Lead by Luis Garden Acosta, El Puente launched LCAN on February 28,2013 in Puerto Rico by convening and facilitating Puerot Rico’s first Leadership Summit on Climate Change. “El Encuentro” engaged 200 leaders representing virtually all sectors of Puerto Rican society and fostered the Governor’s signature on five Executive Orders in support of climate mitigation, adaptation and resiliency that, taken collectively, lead all stateside governors’ actions in regard to climate change policy. Employing “El Encuentro” in Puerto Rico a both inspiration and model, El Puente is building LCAN by organizing leadership summits in stateside cities (New York, Chicago and Miami) with major Puerto Rico/Latino communities. The “Encuentro” will draw from the participants the priorities issues that can be developed into a systemic and strategic plan of action. El Puente will create an interlocking directory of leaders from these “Encuentros” solidifying LCAN as a major Latino voice in the emergence of policies that will enhance the resiliency of the people of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican/Latino communities stateside in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.
El Puente’s Global Justice Institute
The Global Justice Institute (GJI) is a comprehensive training, development, and certification program that engages El Puente staff and Fellows from our local, national, and international networks. The Global Justice Institute has been realized through a rigorous process of formalizing and codifying El Puente’s pedagogy and methodology of nurturing leaders for peace and justice. We have trained our own staff leaders as well as practitioners from across NYC and as far away as France and Northern Ireland. We provide training and support in the areas of arts for social change, cultural organizing, community & youth development, environmental advocacy & climate change, and more. Certified GJI trainers participate in 30+ hours of Train-the-Trainer sessions that are focused on leadership development and personal empowerment. They create original curriculum and facilitate major content for at least 3 internal staff trainings and 3 external trainings. They also facilitate Train-the-Trainer sessions for next generation GJI cohort members, teaching back what they learned and further cementing their own learning.