Rosalyn Mason, 51, had come to Far Rockaway when she was nine years old and has lived there for the majority of her life. She remembers her childhood in her community, recalling some of her fondest recollections of the boardwalk along the ocean, as well as Playland, which she describes as a built-in carnival for summer, spring and fall.
After getting her associate’s degree from ASA College, she went on to St. Joseph College for her master’s degree, and then Fordham University for her master’s in social work. She began her career working with mentally ill young people aged 14 to 25 before transitioning to activism.
“This work kind of chose me, I was always an individual that would lend an ear to listen to what someone has to say. Always trying to help someone map out a situation and going into social work just kind of found me because I was always there helping and always in there serving individuals and really loving that type of work,” she said.
Rosalyn was named director of Rock Safe Street, a community-based gun violence prevention organization. They had handle violence in the community as if it were an illness. Her organization has worked with individuals on a one-on-one basis to provide therapeutic treatments, job placement assistance, mentorship, and assistance if they get into problems.
Rosalyn stated that while Far Rockaway has not changed much, the young people in the town are very different from her generation, with a lot of trauma now coming to the surface. She stated that some young individuals simply lack the ambition that her generation possessed. Rosalyn stated, “A lot of young people just want to feel like they’re being heard right now, and they aren’t.” It was a little different when she was younger, in that some people were heard a little more than young people are now.
“I think programs like Rock Safe Street and some of the other brothers and sisters throughout the city give people a great outlet to just be heard, and I think that it is going to continue to grow and there will be a change,” she said.
Her day-to-day responsibilities often include answering emails and attending community activities until violence occurs, at which point her priorities shift to de-escalating and canvassing the community to keep the peace by diffusing situations and even having mediations.
“What motivates me is that I believe that Far Rockaway is a beautiful place and I match its outside to match its inside. I want peace and I want the young people to understand that there is more to life,” she stated.
One of the most satisfying aspects of her profession, she said, was watching young people turn over a new leaf. She recalls a story of a young woman who had been in jail, went back to school and was able to get her own apartment. She expressed that watching that person who had been a part of her program succeed makes her feel good about the work that she does.
She stated that simply completing her work makes her feel accomplished. She was relieved to have gone 365 days without firing. She expressed satisfaction in being able to aid families who had lost a loved one, in being able to aid people in finding a better way of life, and in assisting families who were on the point of being evicted.
One of the most difficult components of her work was persuading her community that violence was not the solution. “Some individuals don’t realize that violence is a disease, and that hurting people typically hurts people. Some people don’t understand the concept, therefore by engaging with the community, the more people who understand the more people will buy into it,” she explained.
She added that the work she does in her neighborhood is vital because she wants New York City’s gun violence to be reduced so that residents can live in a safe and healthy environment.
She wants to see small children grow up without fear of being shot. “Everyone needs to understand that gun violence impacts not just the family who loses a loved one, but also the person who pulls the trigger. So I think everybody should be educated on it so that they can participate,” she explained.
Far Rockaway has its moments and seasons, but Mason described it as a wonderful spot where they are looking forward to their 365-day no-shooting celebration.