The award recognizes activists who follow in the footsteps of beloved organizer, murdered five years ago this month

Jeannette Rivera received the first-ever Jafet Robles Advocacy Award at the 5th annual raising of the Puerto Rican flag at Linda Park located in Springfield’s Northend.

The award was presented to her by Noemi Arguinzoni-Jimenez, the mother of the activist for whom the award is named. 

Rivera received the award for her dedicated work for a better Western Massachusetts for all, and for the Puerto Rican community in particular. Rivera is a Board Member of Neighbor to Neighbor and active in her community in all areas of her life, influential in efforts both local and statewide. 

The Jafet Robles Advocacy Award commemorates Jafet Robles, a deeply dedicated organizer with Neighbor to Neighbor and beloved friend, coach, son, and father. Awardees will be chosen each year by Robles’s mother, Noemi Arguinzoni-Jimenez.

“It’s an honor to play a role in growing the relational power-building Jafet began in Western Mass, particularly in Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke,” said Rivera on receiving the award. “I often think about the powerful question Jafet would ask others, ‘What do you want to be remembered for?’ when I do what I do. I want to be remembered for the peace I’ve brought into people’s hearts and homes, and for playing a small part in building a more just and equitable world to live in.”

“Jeannette is always thinking about ways to uplift the voices of those around her,” said Elvis Méndez, Executive Director of Neighbor to Neighbor. “She has a big heart and a great sense of community. She is a wonderful recipient of this inaugural award.”

Robles was murdered five years ago on September 11, 2017 in Szot Park in Chicopee. He was 33 years old. His murder remains unsolved. 

The flag raising is a fitting time to remember Robles, who had a deep love for Puerto Rico. He was born in Puerto Rico and his family moved to Springfield when he was 8 months old. 

He grew up in the North End, the community that he fought for every day up until the day he was killed. 

This past Sunday, on the anniversary of his death, he was remembered at the Gerena School’s annual backpack drive by his close friend and fellow Neighbor to Neighbor organizer Zulmalee Rivera and his mother, who honored his legacy by registering attendees to vote. 

Among Robles’s organizing accomplishments are leading Neighbor to Neighbor’s “Jobs Not Jails” campaign to end mass incarceration, leading the fight against the school to prison pipeline, organizing to fix the Gerena School tunnels, and playing a key role in electing then-City Councilor Adam Gomez, who is now a state senator. 

But people who knew Jafet say his impact goes far beyond that. 

“Jafet saw a power in people that they did not see in themselves,” said Elvis Méndez, Executive Director of Neighbor to Neighbor. “He was completely authentic, not an ounce of pretension. That realness allowed him to use his own adversity as a bridge to connect with people’s darkest fears and inspire them to be their best selves. He was 1 of 1, the beating heart of a community, and his loss is incalculable.”

If you have any information that can help investigators solve the murder of Jafet Robles, you are urged to call the Chicopee Police Department at (413) 594-1700 or the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit at (413) 505-5993. You can also anonymously text a tip by texting the word “SOLVE” and your message to CRIMES (274637).