September 26, 2002

Co-founders of El Puente Academy Discuss Roots

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Luis Acosta and Frances Lucerna, two of the cofounders of the El Puente Academy for Peace and Social Justice, discussed the journeys that they took to becoming community activists, relating personal antidotes and pivotal moments from their lives in Auditorium D of Goldwin Smith Hall yesterday.

Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education, moderated this event.

Kramnick related the message inscribed on the Eddy Street Gate to the lecture. “At its founding, Cornell ushered in a new spirit in American higher education, a commitment not only to produce learned and thoughtful students but also useful and public spirited citizens,” he said.

“Many generations later, Cornell still strives to produce useful and public spirited citizens,” Kramnick added.

The speakers emphasized what El Puente was while discussing the defining moments in each of their lives leading to its founding.

“El Puente,” Acosta said, “means ‘The Bridge.’ A human rights organization that for twenty years has focused on the development of community, especially our young. Rooted in the thirty principles of the United Nations declaration of human rights, El Puente today is New York’s only Latino community driven and federally funded environmental research project, it is the nation’s first public high school for human rights and Brooklyn’s most comprehensive Latino center for art and culture.”

Acosta also explained the purpose of the high school.

“Our mission is very clear,” he said. “It is to inspire and nurture the leadership for peace and justice.”

Lucerna, the school’s founding principal and executive director, emphasized the role of art in the school, noting the power of the fine arts to speak to the human spirit.

“At El Puente, the whole center, all of our work, is contextualized within the arts,” she said.

Lucerna also discussed the influence of the El Puente Academy on schooling across the nation.

“There was no other school in the whole country that was focused on peace and social justice. That was a first. Now, it’s almost the norm.”

Not only did both speakers discuss the El Puente Academy but they also examined the events that led to its founding and the community activism that El Puente has participated in over the years.

Acosta recounted his experiences working at a hospital in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

He discussed the frequency of gang related incidents that killed many young people. Acosta explained that the situation had grown so extreme in the early eighties that one young person was dying every week at his hospital.

Lucerna discussed the lack of career opportunities for a Latina from Brooklyn in the late 50’s and early 60’s and her personal journey, from the work she put into becoming a dancer to her motivations for making the change that she made to teaching.

Both speakers expressed a great amount of energy for their cause and their motivations for being activists.

“To me,” Lucerna said, “and in my life, I realize that those moments have always been the moments when my belief system really takes hold of my heart, takes hold of my spirit and I am moved to action.”

Acosta was especially optimistic, though he emphasized that he still had many causes to fight for.

“Our vocation is a holy one, which compels us to mend whole that which is torn, to repair the bridge in the human soul, to create caring,” he said. “It is an act of resistance to choose the path of humanity. At a time when 33 million Americans go to bed hungry, when a billion people on our planet have no daily access to clean water, it is an act of resistance to care and love for each other.”

Many students in the nearly full auditorium greatly enjoyed the lecture.

“I thought it was amazing. I’m really happy Cornell would bring community activists to speak to students. I’m almost without words. I was touched by so many things they said.” Sasha Holley ’05 said.

Archived article by David Hillis