Young Lords, seniors, students, activists and academics unite to preserve community!

Young Lords, seniors, students, organizers and academics unite to preserve community!

By Tom Burke for IGE

Grand Rapids, MI—Close to 200 people turned out for “A Neighborhood Affair to Preserve Community” organized by the Young Lords Student Organization. The event at Grand Valley State University outside Grand Rapids, MI featured the academic and community organizing work of Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez, founder of the Young Lords.

The event highlighted the Young Lords in Lincoln Park oral history collection and debuted new oral histories from nearly 50 African American and Latino senior citizens from southeast and southwest Grand Rapids. These stories, “Community House: Senior Histories,” will be available in March through the Kent District Library as well as the Young Lords Collection, housed at Grand Valley. Two professors also showed a rough edit of a Young Lords documentary they are working to finish.

Short speeches by local activists, community leaders, college administrators and local officials conveyed moving personal experiences working to end racism and poverty. There was well-deserved praise for Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez and his work. Speakers included, Kent District Library director Lance Werner, former Kentwood Mayor Richard Clanton; Tony Baker, Grand Rapids Public Schools board president; Grand Valley President Thomas J. Haas; and Lee Van Orsdel, dean of University Libraries.

This was followed by the spectacular dance performance by Senior Steppers and then the Soul Syndicate band performing for a full dance floor.

José “Cha-Cha” Jiménez founded the Young Lords in 1968 to struggle for human rights and fair housing in Chicago when investors, politicians, and developers began displacing Puerto Ricans, Latinos and others from the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Jiménez organized a movement, formed the original “Rainbow Coalition” with the Black Panthers and Young Patriots, and published a newspaper to draw attention to substandard housing, police brutality and corruption in Chicago.

Jiménez moved to Michigan in the 1980s and later studied at Grand Valley. He began working with a faculty mentor to capture the stories of his friends and neighbors who stood beside him in the Young Lords. This collection began as a Student Summer Scholars project through the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship.

At the event Jiménez said, “While the collection represents two different neighborhoods, the focus is similar: capturing and archiving stories of leaders and activists so that others can learn and understand the history of their community.”

Access the collection online at

Kate Shockey speaking on behalf of the Institute for Global Education, a sponsor of the event, said, “We are proud to work with Cha Cha Jimenez here in Grand Rapids as we pursue peace and justice for all. IGE plans to organize to stop the removal of working poor and especially African American people from the neighborhoods around Wealthy Street.”

IGE Talks is hosting a follow up event with Paul Mayhue moderating, “Neighborhood Improvement vs. Resident Displacement”, Thursday, April 7 at 7pm at the IGE office, 1118 Wealthy Street Southeast, Grand Rapids, MI.