Felipe Luciano, on right, a poet and co-founder of the New York Chapter of the Young Lords, speaks at a recent book signing in Chicago on June 5. He was interviewed by SRBCC director Omar Torres. Photo: James G. Muhamma

CHICAGO—There are few things more powerful than united action in the face of a grievance, Felipe Luciano told union leaders and members during a recent book signing event here.

Mr. Luciano, 77, is a poet, co-founder of the New York chapter of the 1960s progressive Young Lords Party and member of the groundbreaking Last Poets group. He also is an award-winning former broadcaster. He said organizers must be committed to their cause and must not be afraid of people who bring radical ideas.

Mr. Luciano was in the city to sign his new book, “Spirit & Flesh: Confessions of a Young Lord,” at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center (SRBCC). The June 5 event was sponsored by the African American and Latino caucuses of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Illinois State Council.

“Anything you do must have a palpable effect on the people—a united action in the face of a grievance,” he charged. “I know the radical nature of unions. You are the alpha and omega of the middle class, but what bothers me is why are we throwing out the radicals?”


“We’re not allowing radicals to give us new (views) on socialism?  Radicals are the only ones who have future projects, who know what the future is like,” he said.

Describing himself as a Black, Pentecostal, Socialist and Puerto Rican, the activist said it was not typical for Puerto Ricans and Blacks to unite in the 1960s. Still, he intentionally aligned himself with Blacks because of his mother’s pride in identifying with the Black American community.

“My race is Black; my nationality is Puerto Rican. What’s important to understand is what part we play in the game called the United States. We don’t understand who we are,” he said of Blacks and Puerto Ricans. “We are the quintessence of life on this planet. If people of color were not here, the U.S. would implode.”

Mr. Luciano told the audience that writing the book was therapy for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He joined the Young Lords at the age of 14. The Young Lords was organized as a street gang but evolved into a progressive movement patterned after the Black Panther Party.

His experiences as a Young Lord, his incarceration for manslaughter, and the ultimate rejection from the Young Lords linger with him today, he said.

“I decided to write the book to free the demons in my life. We have to let them go. I didn’t want to admit the Young Lords hurt me and that I messed up. Writing the book had me crying every page,” he said.

The Young Lords had historic victories as a movement by taking direct action. In 1969, they led a “Garbage Offensive”—sweeping up trash and sitting it in the street to block traffic—in response to the city’s negligence in picking up garbage in the Puerto Rican neighborhood. The action resulted in better sanitation service.

That same year, the Young Lords took over a church, negotiating with the facility to open its doors as a childcare center.

Most famously, the Young Lords took over part of the Lincoln Hospital building in 1970, a facility notorious for its lack of healthcare delivery. They held the city hostage to the situation for 11 hours and escaped unscathed.

The event brought national attention to the conditions of neglect, the construction of a new facility, and changes to healthcare policies, though underfunding and lack of resources still exist today.

Mr. Luciano said America is headed toward a race war because people are “rapidly approaching” the point where they say enough is enough. While not endorsing a political party, he laid much of the blame on former president Donald Trump, whom he referred to as the “orange man.”

“This orange man is sick, man. He wants to destroy all existing institutions in this country. Then (the people) go after a strong man and will give up your freedoms,” he said.

He told The Final Call that the current political environment is nothing new. “[Whites] knew when they brought us here that what they were doing was inhumane. They knew there would be a reaction, and at some point in this country, there may very well be a race war.”

He said the American people are unaware of America’s involvement in international events and called for the Puerto Rican communities to let their voices be heard on events like the war in Sudan, children dying in the Congo and the Israeli-Gaza genocide.

Identifying with the genocide in Gaza and reflecting on U.S. domination of Puerto Rico, he said: “Palestinians are like Puerto Ricans. They live in a place like a penal colony. Water is controlled. Hatred has a way of [finding its way] into the marrow of the bone and eventually drive you crazy.

“Hamas couldn’t take it anymore. Netanyahu is a low-life thief,” he said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “When you’re under oppression that long, you are bound to break. It’s (race war) gonna happen here (in the U.S.), folks. But I hope not,” he added.

Greg Kelley, president of the SEIU State Council and president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, told The Final Call, Mr. Luciano’s story has had a “huge impact” on him personally and on the new generation of activists.

“It was an honor to engage with such an important political and cultural figure,” he said. “It is of tremendous importance for him, as a Black Latino, to bring his wealth of knowledge and lived experience to spaces where his legacy will continue to grow.

In order for us to make strides in improving the quality of life for not just our members, but for us all, we must be able to learn from those that paved the way on this journey.”