Journalist and activist Pablo “Yoruba” Guzmán joined the ancestors on Nov. 26, 2023. As I wrote at the time:
He may not be someone you recognize unless you lived in New York City during his time as a television reporter, or you read some of his written work in the Village Voice or Rolling Stone. Perhaps you have had the chance to learn the history of The Young Lords Organization in Chicago, and The Young Lords Party in New York City, where he was a founding member, and minister of information on our organization’s Central Committee.
It is important that we honor Pablo’s role in our history. He was not just our comrade, brother, friend, father, son, husband, and a beloved member of the New York City community. He also was not just a proudly Black Puerto Rican Cuban American who fought for us all as an activist. He was also one of the first major network reporters with his background to be seen on television news.
This Saturday, those of us who knew him, loved him, and were affected by his actions through his years in the struggle will gather to celebrate his life at an historic site in East Harlem (also known as el Barrio, or Spanish Harlem): The People’s Church.
RELATED STORY: Caribbean Matters: Rest in power, Pablo ‘Yoruba’ Guzmán
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News of Pablo’s passing was covered by major media outlets in the immediate aftermath. As The New York Times’ Clay Risen wrote:
Pablo Guzmán, Puerto Rican Activist Turned TV Newsman, Dies at 73
He was the voice of the Young Lords in the 1970s, pushing to improve life in poor New York neighborhoods. Later, he won Emmys as a local media celebrity
Pablo Guzmán, who gained widespread media attention in the early 1970s as a leader of the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group based in East Harlem, then flipped the script to become an Emmy-winning television news reporter, died on Sunday in Westchester County, N.Y. He was 73. His wife, Debbie Guzmán, said the cause of his death, in a hospital, was cardiac arrest.
The Young Lords, which Mr. Guzmán helped found in 1969, grabbed New York’s attention with high-profile street actions intended to highlight the deplorable condition of neighborhoods like the South Bronx and East Harlem.
They built walls of garbage across city streets to protest ineffective sanitation, then set them on fire; they took over a church and used it to offer free breakfast to school children; and they briefly occupied a Bronx hospital, turning it into a free clinic.
During his college years, he became a co-founder of the Young Lords Party in New York.Inspired by the Black Panthers, the group was a Puerto Rican revolution party fighting for neighborhood empowerment and the self-determination of Latinos.
In addition to acting as one of the group’s main spokesmen, Guzmán was also the minister of information. In that role, he produced and hosted a weekly radio show for the Young Lords, edited their weekly newsletter Palante and helped the organization grow in various other cities.
Toward the end of the Vietnam War, Guzmán refused to report for the draft as an act of protest. He was subsequently imprisoned for nine months on a two-year sentence at a time when others with no prior arrests were receiving community service or suspended sentences for the same offense. In an archived bio, Guzmán says that it was due to his affiliation with the Young Lords Party.
CBS New York reporter Tony Aiello shared a potent tribute.
Alternative media source Democracy Now! offered a detailed discussion of Guzmán’s life and times.
From the Democracy Now! YouTube video notes:
Guzmán was the former minister of information of the Young Lords Party, the revolutionary social justice group led by Puerto Ricans in the 1960s and ’70s. He later became a beloved print and television reporter, known for his street reporting. Guzmán was the “first great public relations expert of the Latino community,” says Democracy Now! co-host Juan González, also a former Young Lord. “He was one of the first Afro-Latino people in the media,” adds Johanna Fernández, associate professor of history at the City University of New York’s Baruch College and author of The Young Lords: A Radical History. She says Guzmán “brought to the Young Lords a theorization of race in Latin America” and built “common cause with Black Americans.”
Tributes also poured in from Latin musicians who the Young Lords influenced, like pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri.
It is fitting that Pablo’s memorial is being held at The People’s Church, described here by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission:
The 1st Spanish United Methodist Church, also known as People’s Church, is strongly associated with the activities, platform, and ideology of the Young Lords.[…]
In the winter of 1969 the Young Lords took over the 1st Spanish United Methodist Church, using the space to provide services to the underserved community. For 11 days, the Young Lords ran a breakfast program for children, offered basic health testing, ran a daycare with Spanish language lessons and taught Puerto Rican history, and held adult events with discussion groups and performances at night. On the 8th of January the Young Lords peacefully evacuated the church and were arrested. They subsequently staged a longer occupation of the church from October to December of 1970, working to call attention to alleged police brutality and the poor conditions of New York City jails. While the Young Lords undertook many activities in East Harlem and the Bronx, their actions at 1st Spanish United Methodist allowed their ideas and platform to reach decision makers not only within their direct community, but throughout the city and state.
For the full history of our takeover of the church, the 1971 documentary “El Pueblo Se Levanta (The People Are Rising)” is a must-see.
The celebration of Pablo will be moderated by former Young Lord Mickey Melendez, author of “We Took to the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords,” and Professor Johanna Fernández, author of “The Young Lords, A Radical History.”
Here is an alphabetical list of speakers:
Tony Aiello, CBS reporter
Ti-Hua Chang, former NBC reporter
Gilbert ‘Sabu’ Colón, former Young Lord and Pablo’s cousin
Cyndy Hsu, CBS
Kristine Johnson, CBS
Jamal Joseph, former Black Panther
Juan Gonzalez, former Young Lord
Sally Guzman, Pablo’s mom
La Bruja (Caridad De La Luz), poet
Rene Lopez, musicologist
Felipe Luciano, former Young Lord
Paula Madison, former NBC executive
Mariposa María Teresa Fernández, poet
Ed Morales, author, journalist
Denise Oliver-Velez, former Young Lord
David Perez, former Young Lord
Cleo Silvers, former Young Lord
All are invited to attend, so I hope to see some of you who live in the New York City area on Saturday. For those who cannot join us in person, the celebration will be livestreamed on the First Spanish United Methodist Church (YouTube channel, from 3-5 PM ET.
Rest in Power, Yoruba. ¡Palante Siempre Palante!
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