Rosemary Cubas was a significant organizer and housing rights advocate who passed away in 2006 at 62, leaving behind a rich legacy of community service and empowerment. A Cuban immigrant, she began her career as an advocate after graduating from St. Elizabeth’s High School and College in Morristown, N.J., traveling to Chile and other South American countries with the Peace Corps. When she returned to the United States in 1968, she joined former New York Mayor John Lindsay’s Human Rights Commission, eventually moving to Philadelphia to work for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that supports social justice initiatives. Testament to her hands-on commitment to these values, Cubas took a two-year leave from the AFCS to work among the poor minorities she was representing in her job. She labored as a seamstress in several garment factories, where she became an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. During lunch breaks, she taught the women their rights for overtime wages. As a result of these training sessions, Cubas was fired from four factories. During this time she also worked in the fields of South Jersey, riding the buses with migrant workers, to organize them for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers union. Cubas returned to the AFCS in 1974, and went on to become director of its Third World Coalition (TWC), a program intended to forge solidarity between POC community groups and third world community groups and efforts.
In 1982, she spearheaded a sit-in to try to keep the Community Legal Services at Seventh Street and Girard Avenue open after the branch was closed for lack of funds. In 1983, she helped organize a giant rally in Washington with the Delaware Valley Coalition for Jobs. In 1985, she campaigned to open up construction jobs for Blacks, Latinx and Asian workers who were being excluded from such opportunities in Philadelphia at the time. The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations honored Mrs. Cubas in 1987 as chairwoman of the Workers Rights Committee of the Puerto Rican Alliance and secretary of Pennsylvania Jobs With Peace.
In the early 2000s, Cubas became involved in a long-term fight against eminent domain abuse in Philadelphia, which entitled the city to demolish homes in working-class areas in the name of revitalizing housing markets and communities. In response to Mayor John Street‘s 2001 Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI), Cubas founded the Community Leadership Institute to protest these gentrification efforts and remind those in power of the substantial efforts low-income persons had made to revitalize their own communities, from taking back their blocks from drug dealers to the creation of community gardens to compensate for the lack of grocery stores that could provide residents with health produce. In 2002, CLI made a documentary called I Choose to Stay Here, a record of its struggle against unfair city planning practices.