Youth Leadership Development in the 1960’s
In the years following the Zoot Suit riots, racist attitudes in the U.S. toward non-whites continued to fuel shame about ethnic identity. The priests at Epiphany wanted to support a proud and liberated Chicano identity, and beginning in the late 1950’s the church housed numerous youth programs including Teen Post, VISTA, Young Chicanos for Community Action, and other community training and empowerment projects. In the late 1960’s the parish started Barrio Union Scholastic for Community Action (BUSCA) to teach young people the history and culture of Mexican Americans. Chicano artists like Ricardo Reyes were recruited to work on art projects with the youth. Future community leaders including Richard Alatorre, the future assemblyman, Sal Castro, a local teacher who became a pivotal figure in later movement activities, and David Sanchez, founder of the Brown Berets, were all involved with youth programs housed at Epiphany.
Virginia Ram was an important figure at Epiphany who served as a bridge between the late-1950’s primarily white congregation and the dramatic demographic and cultural shifts occurring in East Los Angeles neighborhoods in the 1960’s. As the church’s program director, Virginia was well known, loved and trusted by children, youth, and parents alike. She was hired by then-rector Fr. Kouletsis in the 1950’s. (He remained a key supporter of Epiphany through the turbulence of the next decade in his capacity as Canon to the Ordinary in the office of the bishop.) Virginia worked at the heart of the church, organizing children’s programming, reassuring parents, guiding youth through their tumultuous social and political transitions, and then linking Epiphany with the larger church by serving on the National Church’s Executive Council later in the 1970’s.
Fr. Luce was a special mentor to these emerging youth leaders in the 1960’s. With his gregarious personality and combination of education and work experiences, he moved easily between the barrio and the higher levels of church and society. Intensely focused on neighborhood needs and always circulating on the streets, he used his relationships with prominent Mexican American leaders – labor union leader Cesar Chavez, journalist Ruben Salazar, noted organizer Bert Corona and others – to expose the youth to inspiring role models. He had the ability to spot and nurture leadership qualities in young people and to facilitate empowering experiences for their development. These experiences would affect many of the youth for their lifetimes.