Brooklyn pioneering community activist Luis Garden Acosta, who founded the human rights organization El Puente, died on Tuesday at age 73.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we share with you that El Puente’s Founder and President Luis Garden Acosta passed away on Tuesday evening,” El Puente stated on its website. “For those who share in our grief, we hope that you can take comfort in that his homegoing was peaceful, guided by the love and light offered by his family and friends at his side.”
Acosta was born in 1945 in Fort Greene to a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father. Inspired by a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he began his advocacy work in the 1960s as an antiwar organizer and member of the Puerto Rican activist group Young Lords. Throughout his life, Acosta would take on many different roles in the pursuit of community empowerment and education including public health researcher, educator, hospital director and, on radio, as “America’s Public Health Disc Jockey.”
In 1982, Acosta founded El Puente (“The Bridge”) and gathered church leaders, artists, educators, health providers and other community activists to stop the epidemic wave of violence in the Southside community of Williamsburg, a neighborhood infamously dubbed in the late 1970s, early 1980s as “teenage gang capital of New York City.” Since then, El Puente has established a pioneering national model for youth development within the context of overall community development.
“Brooklyn is a safer place to raise healthy children and families because of community organizers like Luis Garden Acosta,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “Luis, an important Latino leader in our borough’s history, helped mobilize young people as a positive force for change, from stopping gang violence to pursuing environmental justice. His tireless spirit of activism will continue to guide us, in uplifting the arts, improving community health, enhancing education, and advancing the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.”
Grounded in a holistic approach to leadership development for young people and their families, El Puente has bridged the worlds of health, education, and the arts with activism and community empowerment.
Under Acosta’s leadership, El Puente organized the community to dissolve youth gangs and stop street violence, and launched initiatives and programs ranging from childhood immunization campaigns to creating Brooklyn’s most comprehensive Latino Center for Art and Culture, co-founding the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, and convening and facilitating Puerto Rico’s first Leadership Summit on Climate Change.
“Luis built El Puente, in part, to teach us that to live in community, we have a responsibility to serve,” El Puente stated. “And as each of us fulfills this purpose, we will forever be connected by the fact that his are the shoulders we stand on when we dare to reach for our destiny. Together, we are the seeds of hope he sowed. We are the bridges to peace and justice he built. Because of Luis Garden Acosta, ‘We. Are. El Puente.’”
Acosta’s death was met with an outpour of condolences from elected officials and community organizations. Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who regarded Acosta a mentor, called his passing a loss of a hero.
“NYC lost a hero and I lost a mentor in Luis Garden Acosta,” Reynoso stated on Twitter. “Acosta’s dedication to youth empowerment and environmental advocacy will continue to inspire and has shaped my work. Thank you for revitalizing our community and paving the way for young leaders.”
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez honored the activist as a “stalwart advocate.”
“I was heartbroken to hear of the passing of Luis Garden Acosta, who was a steadfast champion for civil rights, education, our young people and a stalwart advocate for addressing climate change,” stated Velazquez.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James said that community activism will never be the same without Acosta.
“He was a champion for civil and human rights, and a trailblazer to empower underrepresented communities in New York for decades,” James said. “He will be missed.”