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Gilberto Cintron

By Jose B. Rivera

September 1998 - Gilberto “Gil” Cintron, community resident, activist, multimedia producer, and cable show director.


Early History
Gilberto Cintron is a life long resident of East Harlem. He was born in Mother Cabrini Hospital on July 16, 1954 to Wilfredo Cintron, a barber, and Maria Esteves Mercado-Cintron, a housewife, both from Lajas Puerto Rico. In 1956, the Cintron family was one of the first to move into the Jefferson Houses on 112th Street between First and Second Avenues.

Gilberto, or Gil, as he prefers to be called, is a product of the New York City Public School System, more specifically, District Four. He attended P.S. 102, Jefferson Park Junior High School 117, and Benjamin Franklin High School.

At the time Gil was growing up, America was facing a civil war. Militant African-Americans (the Black Panthers) and Puerto Ricans (the Young Lords) were demonstrating and at times rioting in an effort to be recognized, and drugs ravaged the community. Many in the community fell victim to this disease. Eventually, Gil dropped out of High School and got involved with street life.

Years later, Gil obtained a high school equivalency diploma and his life changed. While reading gangster novels he realized that it was through community organizing that the Italian, Irish, and Jewish communities were able to change their lot in life. His thirst for knowledge was rekindled, and he read every book he could get his hands on, including Rules for Radicals, and Reveille for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. In an effort to resume his formal education, Gil enrolled in several Colleges, including, Miami Dade College, New Paltz University, and John Jay College for Criminal Justice, before transferring to Boricua College where he was finally able to obtain a Bachelors degree.

While attending Boricua College, Gil embarked on various community organizing ventures. He became a member of the 112th Street block association, and got involved in local politics with Angelo and Bill Del Toro. The first organization Gil created was while he was a participant in a program for ex-offenders created by the Del Toro brothers, JUST-US. This program taught building maintenance and management. Gil organized a construction crew which he called “Rican-struction”, and went after sub-contracts from the large general contractors doing business in the East Harlem Community. Next he organized the Jeffersonville Homesteaders Association to fight against displacement due gentrification. As a result of an aggressive stance this organization took against local drug dealers, a new community based organization was born under the leadership of Gus Rosado, El Barrio’s Operation Fight back”.

While Gil was involved in founding many organizations, one is of particular importance and significance to him. The East Harlem Council On Public Safety (The C.O.P.S.).

The C.O.P.S.
In the early 1980’s, Thomas Jefferson Park, one of the largest public parks in East Harlem, had fallen victim to the local gangs and drug dealers. Where once this park was bustling with children and families, it was now a haven for thugs, local drug dealers and all other forms of anti-social activity. The lights in the park were broken as quickly as the park officials were able to fix them. Drug sales were common, and dead bodies were found there almost on a weekly basis.At this time, Gil was working as a community organizer at the Manhattan Legal Services Corporation on east 116th Street. Using the tactics and skills taught him by Ramon Jimenez, the Community Development Attorney at Manhattan Legal Services, Gil organized the East Harlem Council On Public Safety. This organization was a mix of the Young Lords and the Guardian Angels. Armed with Citizen Band radios (C.B.‘s) members of the C.O.P.S. patrolled the area around the Jefferson Houses, including Thomas Jefferson Park.

Because of his street savvy and gumption, Gil was able to forge a relationship with the gangs leader “Blackie”.image From terrorizing the community, this gang, which now aligned itself with the East Harlem C.O.P.S. , became the parks greatest projector. The then Mayor, Edward Koch and the parks Commissioner, Henry Stern met with this unlikely union and presented them with awards for “Outstanding Citizenry”. The local Council member, Carolyn Maloney, remarked that “Gil Cintron and the East Harlem Council On Public Safety were a remarkable team and at the vanguard of taking the community back”.

Photo at right - Gil and the author review tape to be shown on cable TV.

By now the C.O.P.S. who were recognized by all local groups and police precincts obtained the very first volunteer permit from the NYC Department of Parks for Thomas Jefferson Park, and embarked on a course of revitalization. Later under the leadership of Gil and a member of the 112th Street Block Association, Thomas Teamo, an organization called “The Friends of Jefferson Park” was created and many other community groups joined to force the City to renovate the Thomas Jefferson Park. Today, while the East Harlem C.O.P.S. is no longer in existence, and the Friends of Jefferson Park is inactive, there has been over fifteen million dollars worth of renovations made, and the Thomas Jefferson Park stands as a beacon of hope for all East Harlem residents. As a testament of this communities accomplishment, The East Harlem Gladiators, under the leadership of Rafaela “Negra” and Mickey Rosario, a wife and husband team, operate one of the most successful boxing gyms in all of Manhattan.

Gil went on to pursue higher education, and obtained a Master’s degree in Social Work. Today he is a Certified Social Worker, a father to two beautiful little girls, Atabex and Cemi Cintron, and his wife, Juana Ines Pacheco-Cintron.

East Harlem Online is proud to highlight the good work that Gil has done for El Barrio.  We will no doubt be hearing a lot more of Mr. Cintron’s accomplishments in the years to come.

Further Information:

Gilberto Cintron, CSW
Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service
New York, N.Y. Masters Degree in Social Work
Boricua College, New York, NY, Bachelor of Science

Founder and President El Barrio Broadcasting Corporation

A non-profit organization to offer Latino youth opportunities in radio, video, and television production.

Co-Founder and Executive Director, Talent Unlimited Corporation

Co-founded this youth organization to offer young people alternatives to substance abuse and violence. Administered the day to day operations of this dynamic youth organization.

Chief of Resident Programming

Division of the Drug Elimination Program

New York City Housing Authority

Administered a five million dollar budget. Developed and implemented guidelines geared to helping residents of the New York City Housing Authority plan and develop programs to eradicate drugs from within their developments. Coordinated “Operation Safe Homes”, police activities in developments geared toward eradicating, and curbing drug abuse problems. Prepared by-weekly reports for the Mayor of the City of New York, collected monthly crime, and arrest statistics for the purpose of compiling biannual reports for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

Social Work Supervisor

Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs, Inc. (PRACA)

Began as a caseworker within the emergency foster boarding home program where he provided crisis intervention to families whose children had been placed in foster care. He was promoted to supervisor where he was charged with the responsibility of administering a kinship foster care unit consisting of 4 social workers and 1 case aide servicing caseloads of 25 families each. In 1992 he created and implemented a specialized foster care unit that dealt with children that were either HIV positive or suffered from other catastrophic illnesses due to their mother’s substance abuse history. In April 1994, Gilberto was awarded the “Outstanding Child Welfare Worker Award” for the Mid-Atlantic Region, by the Child Welfare League of America for the creation and implementation of this specialized unit.

Community Advocate/Organizer

Manhattan Legal Services

Organized tenant and other community groups. Mobilized the community in anti-drug rallies. Represented clients in tenants’ court, social security, Medicaid and HRA fair hearings.

Volunteer Work Experience
Member Community Board # 11, committee assignments included:Chairman Cultural Affairs, Member City Property/Housing, Chairman By-Laws Committee
Member East 112th Street Block Association
Cofounder The New 112th Street Block Association (NOSBA)
Founder East Harlem Council on Public Safety (the C.O.P.S.)
Founder/President Despierta/East 112th Street Block Association
Founder/Chairman Boricua College Pre-Law Society
Cofounder Jeffersonville Homesteaders Association

Member National Association of Social Workers
Member Alliance of Hispanic Social Workers
Member National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors
Member Central Park Conservancy Advisory Committee

Editor’s Update: (January 15, 2005) Mr. Cintron has moved out of the East Harlem community and is sorely missed.

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