Luis Garden Acosta is an American pioneer for community driven, human rights activism. He is the Founder and President of El Puente, a nationally celebrated, Brooklyn based, community/youth development organization. Since 1982, El Puente has inspired and nurtured leadership to end community violence while organizing for democratic action, healing and all human rights.
His passion for social action, ranging from education reform to environmental justice, from parks and open spaces to community wellness and culture is rooted in his commitment to the primacy of community. Given his vision, El Puente, as the name implies in Spanish, “bridges” major initiatives in health, the environment, education and the arts, incorporating them all in a holistic, goal oriented membership for community members of all ages. One of Luis’ ideas, the “Green Light District”, a projected 10 year initiative, takes El Puente’s holistic action planning door to door, engaging, virtually, every family in transforming Luis’ home community, the Southside of Williamsburg to America’s model neighborhood for community health and environmental wellness.
Luis is both the President of the over 30 year community institution he founded as well as a national activist who believes in non-violent, direct action. His vision of Latino inclusion in participatory planning and policy making grounds El Puente’s Climate Change and all organizing in the overall struggle for community self-determination. Presently, Luis is leading El Puente’s development of a Latino Climate Action Network-- one he grounded in the El Puente facilitated, first ever, leadership summit on Climate Change in Puerto Rico.
Spirited by a unique background as a graduate of St. Mary’s Seminary, as a Harvard Medical School student and as a planner and community organizer for New York City’s Office of the Mayor, Luis’s vocation has always been one of making whole that which has been torn apart. He has embraced that mission by taking on a diversity of roles as a community organizer, public health researcher, educator, hospital director and, on radio, as “America’s Public Health Disc Jockey”.
He directed a statewide humanities program and led (as Board President) America’s first Afro-Cuban music school. He launched a “university of the streets”, assisted in the writing of the Surgeon General’s Report on Public Health and Self-Help, was a prime organizer for the launch of the welfare rights movement as well as the founder of the Young Lords Party in Massachusetts.
His range of engagement is evidenced in published work from the Fordham Law Journal to the American Journal of Public Health and in lectures and major presentations at such leading institutions as the Institute of Medicine and Harvard University. He is Vice Chair of the Citizens Union, founding Chair of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, and a leading Board member of New Yorkers for Parks, Just Food, the Latino Commission on Aids, and the Research Alliance for New York City Schools as well as a former, Gubernatorial appointed member of New York State’s Environmental Board.
His many awards include the “Spirit of the City” from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, The Citizens Action and Public Works Awards, “The Dream of Equality” award from Asian Americans for Equality, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Forsythia Award and “Celebrating Success” from the Children’s Defense Fund. Along with his partner, Frances Lucerna, an El Puente co-founder and Executive Director, Luis Garden Acosta is the 1998 Heinz Award Winner for the Human Condition.