September 21, 2023

Avenues for Justice Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

AFJ Co-Founder and Executive Director Angel Rodriguez (second from the right), with AFJ Participants and LES community member in the mid-80s.

This month, Avenues for Justice (AFJ)is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month and recognizing the significant contributions of more than 60 million Hispanic Americans, Latinos, Latinas, and Latinx-identifying people to our culture and society. For over forty years, our roots at AFJ are grounded in Hispanic Heritage as a nonprofit organization led by Co-Founder and Executive Director, Angel Rodriguez. 

In 1974,Angel Rodriguez, a lifelong resident of New York City’s Lower East Side, joined NYU law student Robert Siegal in accompanying justice impacted youth into the courthouse and advocating that instead of incarceration, they be released to their care to receive services for tutoring, mentoring, and after school activities. At a time when the Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) model was relatively new, Robert and Angel worked across the criminal justice system to build relationships with the local precinct officers, such as Police Officer Andrew Glover, who patrolled the Lower East Side and provided after school activities for the neighborhood youth.

Tragically in 1975, one block from our flagship community center at 100 Avenue B, Officer Glover was killed in the line of duty, and in 1978, Robert’s life was also cut short due to illness at the age of 28. It was left to Angel to continue the work that Robert and Officer Glover had started. 

In honor of the impact that Officer Glover had on young people in the Lower East Side, Angel incorporated the Andrew Glover Youth Program (renamed Avenues for Justice in 2016) with the assistance of a few community neighbors. Angel secured headquarters inside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse in the 1980’s and collaborated with (ret.) Honorable Judge Michael Corriero to launch the Youth Part model in Manhattan which prosecutes youth separately from adults. Today, this model is used nationwide. In 1982, the organization purchased an abandoned building at 100 Avenue B by Tompkins Square and turned it into our flagship Robert Siegal Center. In the 1990’s, AFJ opened a second community center in Harlem.

Angel’s “meet the moment” approach is far-reaching as he continues to personally advocate for young adults in the courtroom, handle an active caseload of Participants, while working with the board to strategically position the organization for organic growth. According to Angel, "we don’t have a system that corrects. We call it “Correction” but it’s doing a lot of damage. There are other ways to address these kids before we sentence them to prison." Over the years, Angel has been recognized for his work in fostering problem solving approaches to juvenile justice on a community level.

Today, 42%of our staff members identify as Hispanic and 36% of our Participants in 2022identified as Hispanic. Two of AFJ’s Hispanic Court Advocates, who hail from and still live in the Lower East Side (Loisaida),offer over 30+ years of combined professional experience providing court advocacy to young people. 

“Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of the heritage, histories, cultures and contributions of Americans, immigrants, and visitors whose ancestors came from parts of Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. This includes me, as my parents are from Dominican Republic, Spain, and Puerto Rico.  It is a time of celebration and education to ensure that the achievements of Hispanic and Latinx individuals are recognized and appreciated. For my community, this month gives extra recognition to the contributions Hispanic people make in the United States everyday, including but not limited to traditional foods, important advocacy work, vibrant art, music and much more. As a Hispanic woman, mother and Court Advocate, I connect with Participants and their families who don’t speak English and use my bilingual abilities to advocate for them. It is very important at AFJ that Participants are able to see someone who looks like them in a position of helping people.” AFJ Court Advocate, Tiffany 

"Growing up in Washington Heights, raised by a single parent from Colombia, my mother worked two jobs to take care of us. My neighborhood was a Hispanic community where I learned the value of family, hard work and hustling in life to make ends meet." AFJ Facilities Coordinator, Edison 

The struggle, the power, the caring of Latino people like me. We stay strong for the people in our community. We fight for those to help people move forward. Being Latino is important to me and my heritage is important to me because of all the important culture and the things that we bring to this world. We struggle but we keep moving forward – we work for a community and for others instead of working for ourselves.” AFJ Senior Court Advocate, Nelson Valentine


Hispanic youth are disproportionately represented in the justice system, according to existing statistics from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Hispanic youth are detained at nearly twice the rate of white youth and are committed to court-ordered placement 30% more often than white youth.


Program Graduate and AFJ Court Advocate Elsie recalls how, “I was in the same shoes as these kids---lacking outside support and really only having myself to rely on. I know firsthand how hard it is to believe in yourself when you're the only one doing it and we see it every day with our Participants. They are mandated to do X, Y and Z for years -whether it's a minimum of three hours every day after school, a daily 7PM curfew, a 30-day rehabilitation program -and it can be easy for them to lose patience with themselves. But at AFJ we're here to encourage them by believing in them and their ability to do the work, and with enough faith, they believe in themselves too.”

AFJ Staff Members (from left to right, top to bottom): Executive Director Angel, Court Advocates Nelson, Tiffany and Elsie, and Facilities Coordinator Edison. 

Photos by Tom Benedict, Marty Umans, and Andrew Tivon.


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