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Richard Perez 1944-2004.

Tenacious. Compassionate. Brilliant. Consistent. There are only a few adjectives that can begin to do justice to the legacy of Richard Perez. On March 27, 2004, one of the most prominent racial justice leaders of our time passed away after a battle with cancer. Born and raised in the South Bronx, "Richie" as he was called by his comrades (and even some adversaries) spent the past 40 years in service of numerous liberation struggles: Puerto Rican self-determination; community control of schools; the struggle to free political prisoners; the fight against racist representations of Latinos in the media; and the movement to end systemic police brutality and murder of young people of color in New York City. From his early days as Deputy Minister of Information of the Young Lords Party, to his founding the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights in the 1980s, to his tireless efforts at organizing the families and community members of police murder victims during the 1990s and into the present, Richie was perhaps the most consistent racial justice activist of our time.

As part of a younger generation of activists in search of mentorship from those who survived the revolution of the 1960s, I found that Richie was often the only elder statesman we could turn to. This is not to say that there was shortage of baby boomers willing to expound on mistakes made and lessons learned during their political heyday. But Richie was different. He would mobilize the past in an effort to build new organizations and campaigns with us in the present. Indeed, he believed in the protracted struggle, and his history lessons were a mere prelude to his main question at hand: "So, where are we headed next, people?"

While much is made these days of the need for social justice movements to take the struggle back into the streets, Richie's legacy, in part, is that he never left those streets. Be it 1968 or 2003, you were certain to find Richie taking over bridges and blocking traffic during a New York City rush hour to bring attention to police murders; or rallying the troops to heckle Mayor Giuliani during the Puerto Rican Day Parade ("When you see him pass, boo his ass!"); or just building with a group of young people on any given street corner. Some might call his 40-year affinity for the streets stubbornness-an unwillingness to shift tactics. But others understand that quite the opposite was true. Richie exhausted every tactic possible: civil disobedience, peaceful marches, media activism, voter registration, electoral politics. And it was in the streets, on the frontlines, where he found the freedom fighters who were down for anything. He will be missed. But never forgotten.

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Author:Tang, Eric
Publication:Colorlines Magazine
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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