Established to prevent and curtail violence amongst youth within Santa Cruz County by providing life-enhancing alternatives


The California Coalition of Barrios Unidos began as a community based peace movement in the violent streets of urban California in 1977. Incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1993, the national office of Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos established the mission to prevent and curtail violence amongst youth within Santa Cruz County by providing them with life enhancing alternatives. Over the past twenty-five years Barrios Unidos has developed a model that seeks to reclaim and restore the lives of struggling youth while promoting unity amongst families and neighbors through community building efforts.



Leadership and Human Capital Development

To build human capital by providing culturally based education, skills development and service opportunities that prepare youth to become community leaders that contribute to the well-being of their families and to the social, economic and civic life of the community. It is central to our mission to enlist and prepare a continuum of intergenerational leaders – including children, youth, adults and elders- across the various aspects of our work to build community and advance society. We deliberately recruit, train and employ community workers who have experienced and overcome the challenges faced by youth today.

Community Economic Development

To promote economic advancement and self-sufficiency through community-based land development, the acquisition and management of property and business assets, education, job preparedness, skills building, providing access to new computer technologies and the creation of barrio enterprise zones that support entrepreneurial ventures, family and micro-business.

Civic Participation and Community Mobilization

To mobilize institutional, public and private assets in order to achieve equity of opportunity, resource access, health and well-being in the civic and community life of our barrios. We believe that effecting and instituting real change requires multi-sector involvement and collaboration.

Cultural Arts and Recreational Activities

To provide a central communal space for spiritual ceremony, the arts (including exhibits, music, danza, poetry, literature, crafts and storytelling) and other forms of cultural expression. We take care to nurture cultural expression in the daily life of the organization and community through religious and political holidays, recreational activities, rights of passage celebrations, commemorations and other cultural celebrations as a form of social cohesion and community building.

Coalition Building

To provide organizing support to communities across the country that have established Barrios Unidos chapters guided by the values, principles, and core strategies of the movement. Barrios Unidos works within multi-racial coalitions and alliances that advance common ground issues and social change strategies pertaining to violence prevention, criminal and juvenile justice, public health, human immigration policy and educational reform.

Theories of Change

The values that guide the work of Barrios Unidos draw heavily on the Chicano/Mexicano culture, described as an amalgamation (mestisaje) of spiritual and cultural traditions. Our values, beliefs and traditions flow from an ancient indigenous heritage that assimilates European and other cultural influences introduced to North America over the past 500 years. A primary focus of the Barrios Unidos peace movement has been to build community-based structures to support organizing and social cohesion by restoring the cultural traditions that have historically bound our families and communities together.

The peace movement is first and foremost, a corollary of the struggle to achieve social justice and equity in America (the United States). Barrios Unidos operates on the premise that the root causes of interpersonal and street violence are found in the social conditions of poverty including racism, discrimination, inadequate housing and education, unemployment, poor healthcare and other indices of inequity. In this regard, the Barrios Unidos movement emerged from and continues to uphold the on-going struggle for civil rights in America (the United States).

Barrios Unidos has assimilated into its work the connection between cultural consciousness and political action, a commitment to working in inter-racial alliances and coalitions, promoting community self-reliance and economic development and non-violent action for social change. Barrios Unidos is not a traditional youth service organization, but is instead a hybrid social enterprise that works in a holistic fashion with youth, families, the public and the private sector to build human and community capital thereby strengthening communities and, as a result, the whole of society.