Rosalind Pichardo is woman who sees sunlight in darkened corners.
“I’m a community advocate and activist, I’m a mother and grandmother,” she says, “and I just really support families who’ve been affected by homicide, who’ve been affected by any kind of trauma….people call me angel…I don’t think I take compliments very well.”
By day, Pichardo is a trauma advocate at Temple University Hospital. In her free time —that’s mornings, nights and weekends — she helps families impacted by homicide navigate police and courts, advocates for gun violence victims and walks the streets of Kensington and rides the trains, teaching people how to reverse drug overdoses. She does this all while bringing light to the houseless and those battling addiction.
“You just can’t walk by it every day and not acknowledge a person who’s sleeping on the street,” she says, “I can’t not say, ‘you know, what can I do to make a difference?'”
Pichardo makes a difference by giving out snacks, water, socks, even coats. She writes the names of those she helps on the street in her Bible.
“To just pray for folks, you know, in my own way,” she says, “every person in that book deserves life and I am just praying for them constantly that they’re okay.”
Roz is also known as “Momma Sunshine.” Why? Well, she calls the folks she helps her “Sunshines.”
“When people see someone in the street they use stigmatizing words like junkie, addict, zombie,” she says, “all these negative things that [folks] call my people really [ignores] who they were before the addiction…. And to address someone as “Sunshine” brings a smile to so many faces.”
Pichardo has helped her Sunshines in that moment, when they were on the brink of death. According to her tally, she has used Narcan to reverse overdoses for more than 900 of her Sunshines.
“How many people do you know personally– but one individual can say that they saved 900 people’s lives— it’s hard to even wrap your brain around,” says Eric Marsh, Community Outreach Organizer for WHYY.
Before his tenure at the station, Marsh worked in City Council and in the streets as an activist. He says while he and Pichardo are not personally connected, he decided to nominate her for the project because he’s seen her work up close, year after year, after year.
“I can’t imagine what this city would look like without her,” he says.
During the pandemic, Pichardo contracted COVID multiple times and was even hospitalized while working to help those in need. The COVID restrictions didn’t stop the addiction and the need on the streets so she says she kept working. Pichardo notes that she answered a call where saved the life of 7-year-old girl who overdosed on heroin she found on the street:
“We didn’t and we didn’t judge that family,” she says, “but what we did do was save that child.”
She calls that day- one of the best of her life: “I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.”
Pichardo helps everyone- even drug dealers. She hands out gun locks and teaches individuals how to save themselves or others if they are shot or otherwise impacted by gun violence. But the ability to snap into action and focus when traumatic things happen, comes from her own trauma. In 1994, when Pichardo was 16, an ex-boyfriend nearly beat her to death and threw her off an overpass. He then shot and killed her current boyfriend. Years later, in 2001 Pichardo’s identical twin sister Kathleen died by suicide. And in 2012 her brother Alexander fell victim to gun violence.
“To be put in a position of that immense trauma— that really changed me,” she says.
In 2012, Pichardo began camping outside in January in honor of her brother and the many other victims of homicide. Soon thereafter, she founded Operation Save Our City. And for the past ten years, she’s been on a quest to do just that.
“I really admire that she doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk,” says Jamal Johnson, a veteran and anti-violence activist known for calling on city and state officials to step up and deal with gun violence.
He says he witnessed Pichardo reversing overdoses with Narcan. And last month, he camped outside in Kensington alongside her for the now 10th Annual Camp Out for Peace
“I see her commitment, I see her compassion,” he says, “you know, I see how she takes it to the heart…she puts her body on the line and her heart on the line.”
Pichardo’s efforts are documented in an award winning documentary by Joe Quint, titled, “Hello Sunshine.”
All the trauma, Pichardo says, has given her something she cherishes.
“It’s just purpose, you know. I finally found it. It took years and years of trying to find it during my dark days and then it’s here.”
The purpose is the thing so many people see- it’s her sunshine.
“Oh, man,” says Marsh when asked about Pichardo, “[she’s] just the definition of a good soul.”