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Freeholders Honor South Ward's 'Coach Rock'

Former drug dealer became mentor to city youth

Earlier this month the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored Newark resident Rodney Mason for his work coaching football and baseball to inner city youth, while teaching them to avoid the negative influences of the streets.  The Board’s commendation was sponsored and presented to Mason by At-Large Freeholders Rufus Johnson of Newark and Gerald Owens of South Orange.

“Mr. Mason, I honor you, I respect you for the things you do and the way you’re doing it.  Here in the City of Newark, if we had another 100 people like you, with your heart, hard work and determination, it would be a better place to be,” Johnson said.   

Mason is a lifelong resident of the South Ward affectionately known as “Coach Rock. 

As a young man, Mason was a promising athlete in both football and baseball.  A pitcher on the Malcolm X Shabazz baseball team, he threw a fastball that was clocked at 93 mph, and harbored dreams of becoming a Major League baseball player.  But he was also no stranger to the pull of the street, selling drugs when he was in the eighth grade.  Even while attending Essex County College, he lived the life of a drug dealer which led to his incarceration at the age of 25 and, in 1995, to his being shot in the back in a drive-by shooting that paralyzed him from the waist down, leaving him wheelchair-bound.

In 2005, Mason began to turn his life around when he joined old high school friends whose business, Cobblestone Records, initiated the Ceasefire All-Stars, a group of artists and individuals who promoted an anti-gun violence campaign in the community through positive music, videos and public service announcements.  In 2008, Rodney started a youth baseball team, the Newark Eagles, with the Jackie Robinson Little League in Weequahic Park, a story that was featured on ABC World News Tonight, NJ.com, in The Star-Ledger, and is the subject of a soon-to-be-released book, “A Chance to Win,” by Jonathan Schuppe.

“My main purpose is to save kids’ lives in the City of Newark.  I grew up here and I know what they’re going through.  So if I can support them and help them, it’s a blessing.  I’m just trying to save lives,” Mason said.

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