A tireless borough advocate passed away before the holiday season, but his admirers are making sure his legacy is remembered forever.
The former president of the non-profit Nos Quedamos, amongst many other things, Gilberto Rivera passed away on Friday, November 25 at the age of 75 after suffering a stroke in early October and battling diabetes for over 20 years.
Rivera, who was legally blind at the time of his death, was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, but moved to the mainland in the 1960s and would call the Bronx his home for the remainder of his life.
In the 50 years that he lived in the borough, Rivera took part in countless events and organizations to help fellow Bronxites strive in the great borough. Not only did he co-found Nos Quedamos with the late Yolanda Garcia, but served as a member of Community Board 1, was first vice president of the 40th Precinct Community Council for 10 years, and veteran of the United States Army.
Longtime friend Anna Vincenty met Rivera as a volunteer for Nos Quedamos in 1992. Vincenty acknowledged her brother-sister type relationship with Rivera and said that their “tough love” for each other allowed them to maintain an amazing friendship over the last 20 years.
“Gilberto was one of those men who was very adamant, tough, outspoken, and never held anything back that he wanted to say from anyone,” Vincenty said. “He gave back to others as much as he could and despite being sick he kept going out there and never stopped. Even though he was tough, he was like a gentle giant and it never bothered him to shed a tear if he was touched by someone or something.”
While working with Nos Quedamos, Rivera fought alongside Garcia to help Bronx tenants fight the city’s efforts to displace them and helped them participate in the planning of their neighborhood’s renewal.
Rivera was also a member of Pueblo En Marcha, a social service advocacy group, where he and Maximino Rivera, who he met in 1976 while fighting the city’s plans to shut down Hostos Community College, continued to assist Bronxites.
After the fight to keep Hostos open was a success, the two remained close friends and continued working with Bronx tenants, making sure they were given the best living accommodations by their landlords.
“He just never stopped working for anybody because he truly cared for everyone. Once you knew him, you knew that you had a friend who always had your back,” Vincenty said. “The funeral parlor was packed with hundreds of people to pay their respects for him. It’s a part of life to lose a friend or loved one, but Gilberto will truly be missed.”
Community Board 1 has unanimously voted to have the street where Rivera lived, Bergan Avenue between East 148th and East 149th streets, renamed to Gilberto Rivera Way. The board is now waiting for the recommendation to be signed off by Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo.
Rivera is survived by his wife Raquel, two sons, and grandchildren.
Reach Vito Signorile via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 742-3383.