“It is my duty and responsibility to serve my community, others have paved the way for me to get here and now is my turn”. Astin Jacobo lived by this statement and served every community where he lived as a duty to his people.
Austin Jacobo was born on a sugar cane plantation in the Dominican Republic, he learned very early to fight for his rights and the rights of others. His community work began in Consuelo, Dominican Republic in 1951 helping the Catholic Church develop and organized the community. He was involved in improving housing conditions, and providing family, sports and youth leadership programs.
In 1966 he became a scout for Huston major league team. ‘Jacobo’ as he affectionately called, had to escape the Dominican Republic because of his involvement as a union organizer. He had to flee his country unexpectedly and leave his family behind. The government considered him a communist because he believed in the rights of the people. He spoke against the government and organized the people in protests and job actions. He did not stand down to the government even though it almost cost him his life. The Catholic Church helped him escaped to Canada and later he immigrated to the United States.
He came to the United States in 1970. Although he did not speak the language as well as the people in the community, the strength of his convictions prompted him to get involved with the people in his community almost immediately. He began by getting involved with sports via youth programs. He worked as a janitor for Saint Martin of Tours, a local Catholic Church that he asked to allow him to open the gymnasium to create a place where young people could go and play in order to be out of the streets. He was president of the Crotona Community Coalition for 25 years. Under his leadership, the community transformed
As a visionary leader, he believed that the family unit is the center of the community. Jacobo understood that nurturing the family and its needs would have a positive impact on decreasing crime and violence in the community.
Housing was a big issue. He begins to fight for rent control, heating of the buildings, and renovation of the apartments. Next, Jacobo redoubled his efforts to find places and activities to involve the youth, keep them away from drugs. As he expanded his vision, he and his staff had to explore external community organizations and people that would help them obtain their goals.
The Coalition reached out to politicians, private and public industries and anyone else who benefits from the community. Through his leadership and that of the Crotona Community Coalition, the community received a 3 million dollar grant from Mayor Koch and the organization was able to build its first ballpark and maintain a sports program.
Through the years the community has built two more parks with additional grants obtained by the Coalition under Jacobo’s leadership. The Crotona Community Coalition began to buy buildings and build affordable housing. One of his big dreams for the community was to build a community center. He was able to help create the community center called the Mary Mitchell Center, which has been open since 1998. This Center is the epitome of Jacobo’s primary goal of keeping the youth off the street and away from drugs.
Jacobo always wore a green baseball cap, which has become a symbol of his mission. As an authentic leader, he had “the integrity to walk the talk and talk the walk, self-awareness of his feeling and actions, sensitivity and empathy toward and in relationship to the community”.