East Flatbush mom who lost son to violence, gives back

Giving back: Founder of the Rohan Levy Foundation, Nadine Sylvester, center, and two recipients of her organization’s college scholarship send off event at Prospect Park on Aug. 12.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

The Rohan Levy Foundation presented two students with scholarships at a college send-off event at Prospect Park on Sunday. The organization, founded by Nadine Sylvester, who named it after her son she lost to gun violence, awarded Jalen Vasquez and Kenneth Nelson Jr. with $2,000 each for college expenses. The young men and their parents were appreciative of the event, which is geared towards assisting the most vulnerable of becoming victims of crime.

“They had a great time and their families were so excited and thankful,” said Sylvester. “The foundation is there to eradicate gun violence in the community and offer support through education, mentorship, and policy.”

About 100 people turned out to support the send-off.

Vasquez will begin his sophomore year at Howard University as an architect major, and Nelson starts his first college year at Rochester Institute of Technology to study engineering, according to Sylvester.

Last year, Sylvester’s 15-year-old son Rohan, was shot and killed in East Flatbush in a case of mistaken identity. She created the anti-violence foundation to provide services that aim to support and encourage young men at-risk of being victims, and to prevent others from resorting to guns and gang activity. She says prioritizing the at-risk youth will help push them to strive for improvement, and raise awareness that informs families that it can happen to anyone.

“I think especially in communities of color, often times we don’t think we can be impacted,” she said. “But I’m middle class and highly-educated, and my son was a B student just hanging out in front of his house when he was shot. Race or class — anyone can be impacted and we need to realize that.”

Next year Sylvester is hoping to implement another scholarship program that includes young women of color interested in studying engineering, or science, technology, and mathematics. She said giving back was her way of advocating against violence, and added that even through her grief — her passion to save other young men was stronger.

“Guns are rampant in the community and as a mother who lost a son — it’s hard,” she said. “I could be angry, which some days I am — but we have so many kids that could be positively impacted and that is what I’m doing.”

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]local.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.

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