Our History



El Puente was founded in 1982 by Luis Garden Acosta who called together church leaders, artists, educators, health providers, and other community activists to stop the epidemic wave of violence in the Southside community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In a twelve-month period (July 1979 to June 1980) out of a population of a little over 30,000, 48 young people, virtually one adolescent every week, was assassinated in what the mass media termed as the “teenage gang capital of New York City.”

 In over three decades, El Puente has accomplished numerous headline initiatives while pioneering a national model for youth development within the context of overall community development.  Grounded in a holistic approach to leadership development for young people and their families, El Puente bridges the worlds of health, education, and the arts with activism and community empowerment. El Puente’s central focus, “see, judge and act”, adopted from the Young Christian Worker movement as well as the legacy of the Young Lords Party has galvanized a human rights movement that has inspired members and their families to lead community campaigns and initiatives, including:

  • Organizing the community to dissolve youth gangs and stop street violence.
  • Founding the Community Alliance For the Environment (CAFE), in partnership with UJO and NYPRG that toppled the development of a legislated, 55-story incinerator in Williamsburg.


  • Co-founding the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
  • Shutting down New York City’s least performing and most violent high school (and writing the RFP that led to the creation of four smaller schools that replaced it).
  • Tearing down a wall that segregated children in a Brooklyn public school (P.S. 16) by leading a month-long, total student boycott.
  • Leading New York State’s most successful childhood immunization campaign.
  • Leading a diverse community coalition in a successful campaign to limit the activities of a radioactive and hazardous waste storage facility located in Williamsburg.
  • Reaching out to 5,000 of its Southside neighbors in a three-year asthma study that resulted in the first scientific, peer-reviewed article written by a community organization ever published by The American Journal of Public Health.
  • Creating Brooklyn’s most comprehensive Latino Center for Art and Culture.
  • Co-founding the Latino Commission on AIDS.
  • Creating the first continuously running HIV/AIDS Adolescent Drama Company, Teatro El Puente in America.
  • Co-founding the U.S. non-violent resistance movement (principally, with direct action at the United Nations) that helped bring an end to the bombing of Vieques, Puerto Rico.
  • Inaugurating the nation’s first public high school for human rights, the “A” rated, El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice.
  • Convening and facilitating Puerto Rico’s first Leadership Summit on Climate Change, engaging all sectors of Puerto Rican society and fostering the Governor’s signature on five Executive Orders in support of climate change mitigation, adaptation and resiliency that, taken collectively, lead U.S.