“Today, you’ll see streetlights and roads in Buenaventura. We did this by ourselves, developing systems and mechanisms to live in an organized society, without any recognition or support from the government.”
Leyla has a long history of organizing for Afro-descendant people. After training as a social worker at Universidad del Valle in Cali in the late 1980s, she began organizing Black youth in conjunction with a larger community-based planning process in Buenaventura. Her work included collecting oral histories and documenting the history and traditions of the neighborhoods and communities around Buenaventura.
She has helped Afro-descendant communities acquire land titles and assisted in ensuring an effective implementation of Law 70 — legislation that provides for Afro-Colombians’ collective titling and ownership of their territories.
Leyla lobbied for the representation of Afro-descendants in the creation of the new Colombian Constitution of 1991. She was a key figure in organizing Afro-Colombians throughout the country during the Constitution’s drafting.
She worked arduously in the late 1990s to help Afro-descendant communities acquire collective land titles in the Pacific coastal region, utilizing her historical community documentation.
Leyla continued to work for territorial rights through the 2000s, while also aiding displaced populations fleeing armed actors in the region. She continues to advocate for the protection of all rights of Afro-Colombians as guaranteed by the Constitution, including for the protection of human rights defenders in rural areas. She organizes to defend urban areas and residents in Buenaventura.
Leyla has received death threats for her work but continues to fight for her community.