Young Lords collection focuses on civil rights in Chicago, Grand Rapids

GVL / Courtesy - Máximo R. Colón
Partido Young Lords, ca. 1970

Máximo R. Colón

GVL / Courtesy – Máximo R. Colón Partido Young Lords, ca. 1970

Meghan McBrady

History impacts the present. It affects learning, impacts judgements and shapes futures.

There are lessons that continue to be learned, and because of that, Grand Valley State University will be hosting “A Neighborhood Affair to Preserve Community” on March 29 from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. in the Pere Marquette Room in the Kirkhof Center.

Though it focuses on the oral histories of civil rights leaders from Chicago, the event also introduces over 46 new oral histories of African American and Latino senior citizens from southeast and southwest Grand Rapids.

Jose “Cha-Cha” Jiménez, who established civil rights group the Young Lords in Lincoln Park in 1968, emphasized that interviewing the seniors for the collection is not only to listen to their personal history and struggles, but to also support the archives at GVSU.

He also said that GVSU will play a major role in opening up discussions on personal histories and their impact in changing and bringing social justice to society.

“We don’t want the collection to be put somewhere in the basement, we want it to be kept alive, because it is relevant today in Grand Rapids and other places,” Jiménez said. “The idea for the interviews with the senior citizens is show that these are human beings that have had major impacts in their lives.”

The Young Lords collection conveys the ongoing struggle for fair housing and human rights for Puerto Rican, Mexicano and other Latino immigrants in Lincoln Park, Chicago that were displaced by in the late 1960s by city hall, banks and various neighborhood associations.

While Jiménez organized a national movement, formed alliances with the Black Panthers and published articles that discussed corruption and substandard housing in Chicago, his documenting of their struggle in the Young Lords oral history collection established the need, he said, for telling the group’s story in an honest and open format.

“My concern with the oral histories has nothing to do with research but had to with the fact that our community got completely displaced in Chicago in the 60s,” he said. “I was trying to find a way to preserve that community so that we could keep all 110 oral histories.”

James Kwame, a graduate student in health administration and a member of the Young Lords student organization at GVSU, said that he is excited to see students, faculty and the community of Grand Rapids attend the event.

He said he hopes that the attendees at the event will see that while there are still issues in human rights in the world and that creating a conversation will spur action.

“I am looking forward to making students learn more about what the Young Lords do and what the mission is,” Kwame said. “And (bringing) about awareness so that they will understand that there are a lot of things going on outside of the community.”

“A Neighborhood Affair to Preserve Community” will host 60 senior citizens, a dance performance by the Senior Steppers, live music from Soul Syndicate and a clip from the documentary about the origins of the Young Lords.

GVSU President Thomas J. Haas, Kent District Library Director Lance Werner and Vice President of the Division of Inclusion and Equity, Jesse Bernal, will also speak at the event.

Though the event does touch upon instances of injustice, it also focuses on bringing students, faculty, staff and community leaders together so that they can celebrate humanity and all of its forces.

“This is history that is being wasted and forgotten and being put off to the side,” Jiménez said. “It is not enough to just document their voices as it is not just about them speaking out, but being concerned about their interests. We need to work together for solutions.”

To listen to any of the oral histories, visit