Growing up in the Bronx, Alexie Torres-Fleming watched her borough burn. As a little girl perched on the ledge of her ninth floor window in the Bronx River Public Housing Projects, she witnessed the fires that led to the devastation of the South Bronx in the late 1960s and 1970s. Although she was too young to understand things like “planned shrinkage,” “urban renewal,” “disinvestment” and “white flight,” she knew that it was a frightening and tumultuous time for her and all of the children of the South Bronx. When later urban planning initiatives transformed the rubble of her neighborhood, Torres-Fleming grew determined to see that local residents had a role in the rebuilding process.
Torres-Fleming left the South Bronx in her 20s to live and start a corporate career. During that time, she learned the power of grassroots organizing through her involvement with the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, activist group El Puente. She returned to the South Bronx in 1992, joining a community action group at the Holy Cross parish. When the church organized an anti-drug rally, local drug dealers attempted to burn down the church in an attempt to intimidate the activists. Rather than retreating from the threat of danger, Torres-Fleming and other leaders realized that they had the power to make a real difference.
She founded Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) in 1994 with the mission to prepare young people to become prophetic voices for peace and justice. Faith is a central component of YMPJ’s work. Torres-Fleming and members of the organization encourage young people to believe that a desire to promote justice and healthy community growth is at the core of an individual’s belief, and that faith gives people the will and the courage to stand up and do something.
Torres-Fleming believes that convincing residents of the Bronx that they possess the skills and tools necessary to engender change is as important a legacy as the concrete results that YMPJ has produced. She is proud of the successful projects that have added parks, provided access to the Bronx River, and cleaned up brownfields, but she notes that it is “even more important that I contribute to leaving a legacy of a community that understands its own power.”
Torres-Fleming served as YMPJ’s founder and executive director for 17 years. She recently transitioned the organization’s leadership to a young man from the same community who was one of YMPJ’s earliest members and trained as a youth organizer.
A nationally sought-after speaker, Torres-Fleming has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the 2008 Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism; The Caritas Medal from the Vincentian Society for her service to the poor; and the “Servitor Pacis—Servant of Peace” award from the Permanent Observer Mission of the Vatican to the United Nations. In January 2009, she was named one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by the Utne Reader. In addition to her work with YMPJ, she sits on several boards, and is the co-founder of such organizations as the Bronx River Alliance and the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance.
Today, Alexie Torres-Fleming continues her public speaking and writing while also serving as a senior fellow for the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing; she is the former executive director of the Sister Fund. She is also pursuing her Master of Divinity at New York Theological Seminary. Her vision for change in the face of daunting obstacles and her successful efforts to cultivate a new generation of young leaders dedicated to promoting peace and justice in their communities has made her an inspiration to her neighbors in the Bronx, and has propelled her to be a national voice on issues of faith, community organizing, and social justice.
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