Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘I think it’s also okay to look for God and reflect on things you’ve done right or wrong. I feel like a lot of the times comedy tends to be rhetorical questions.’

Brentwood

“I think the comedic world where I’m from is very simple and it needs to be reinvented. So, I feel like it’s my obligation to the future of this community on Long Island to give them something to be proud of. And as a Brown person, I think I’m almost there, but I think as long as I have a kind heart and a willingness to learn from others in the process, I think that this community will thrive.

“In my early-to-mid 20s, I was actually a poet. I really loved poetry, so much so that I started sharing tables with poet laureates. I felt it was kind of limited. I wanted more stage time. They were like ‘You can only read two poems at a time.’ Then, one day, I went to this discourse with all these poet laureates, and I just started roasting everyone.

“I think when I first discovered comedy, I was 8 years old and at the time my aunt was my caretaker. One day, I saw the first episode of “The Chappelle Show,” and at the time this dude was a 27-year-old guy who has been in the game since he was 14. He was gifted and there was a certainty that I was hooked. Then I discovered Gabriel Iglesias, Greg Giraldo, and Eddie Murphy. I like the old-timers.

Over the last couple of years, I feel like I was offered a challenge.

“I’m a visual learner. I try to look for silence a lot of the time. I try not to put myself in a loud place when I don’t want to be. I think it’s also okay to look for God and reflect on things you’ve done right or wrong. I feel like a lot of the times comedy tends to be rhetorical questions. This year has been pretty rough for me as a producer.

“Over the last couple of years, I feel like I was offered a challenge. Even more so with everything that has been going on during this pandemic, but I took this challenge truly to heart. I feel as though this year things are sort of changing in the right direction.

“My goal was to find more Black comedians who are not only men but women most importantly. Women who are Latinos, Asians, Middle Eastern, just people in general. I feel white people kind of saturated it. I want to hear people out. I want to listen to different types of stories. I curate the type of shows I personally would want to watch myself.”

‘My long-term goals are to continue to make a difference in the lives of Long Island students.’

Northport

As a science teacher and research scientist in Brentwood Union Free School District, I’ve dedicated 20 years of my career to getting more people of color involved in the sciences, to be the voice of change and the ones moving the legislation at the state level and that people are listening to. I have a state-of-the-art research lab at the high school. They come in as 10th-graders who have never picked up any equipment and by their senior year, they’re out conducting real-world investigations.

“Since 2018, my students have been working with New York State Parks and Save the Sound to replant and restore the salt marsh in Sunken Meadow State Park. They’ve planted over 2,000 plants. This came about because while getting my masters at Stony Brook University, I worked in Madagascar for six months. It was the beginning of the rest of my life because there I saw an imminent need to help those who didn’t have the resources that we had in the U.S., both for teaching and the environment. I worked with kids in Madagascar to replant and reforest the rainforest. And 20 years later, I’m planting Spartina in a salt marsh on Long Island.

“One would say my life hasn’t changed much, but when I came back from that trip, I realized that it’s not just Madagascar that needs help. It’s right here in our own backyard. I did my student teaching in Brentwood and fell in love with the population; 57 different cultural nations represented in the student body. I took a job in Brentwood and started a research program as an afterschool initiative. That became a class and my life mission.

Here I am jumping into my research to get me out of a bad situation in my life, and that’s kind of how I see research for our students in Brentwood.

“In 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27. What helped get me through that darkness was the science and getting my kids to answer and ask questions. From 2004 to 2006, we started pushing forward with the research program. We were always the “Bad News Bears” at the science competitions. We’d go to country clubs and compete against Roslyn, Syosset and Jericho. I was going to the Salvation Army to buy jackets for my kids so they looked like the rest. I called it the ‘Science Unfair’ because my students didn’t have the same skillset and background as everybody else.

“In 2007, I had a recurrence, and a bilateral mastectomy. I decided to finish my Ph.D. I was going through chemotherapy and in graduate school full-time and working full-time. I was having a hard time, so I just sunk myself into research. The experience was one of the most arduous of my life and the most life-changing for both me and the Brentwood program.

“In 2010, we started to win competitions. We had a recognition from the Siemens Competition, a first ever for Brentwood. In 2011, my student Samantha Garvey was doing research in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook. She was going to drop out because her parents were evicted. We raised money so she could stay with the program and in 2012, she was recognized as an Intel Semifinalist. She was invited to the White House and President Obama’s State of the Union Address. We were on “The Ellen Show” and “The Today Show.” It was all about how through science you can get out of a bad situation.

My true purpose is that regardless of zip code kids have the resources to do and go where they need to go. If that means trying to hold your ground and saying, ‘things need to change,’ then you need to be the voice of change.

“Here I am jumping into my research to get me out of a bad situation in my life, and that’s kind of how I see research for our students in Brentwood. For me it was a long, uphill battle. I get hit with cancer and wind up continuing to persevere. Things started to fall into place when the students were getting the recognition they deserved. Since 2010, we’ve had over 20 national winners and we’ve brought in over $20 million in college scholarships. The lab is the little gem of the district. We have kids from this program who have gone to Yale, Harvard and MIT.

“In a community like Brentwood, one of the hardest hit by COVID, you need to believe in science. Without science, I wouldn’t be standing here right now. My long-term goals are to continue to make a difference in the lives of students and focus specifically on the underrepresented community of Brentwood to showcase that with the right skills and the right people in place, we can make a difference in the lives of our youth. My true purpose is that regardless of zip code kids have the resources to do and go where they need to go. If that means trying to hold your ground and saying, ‘things need to change,’ then you need to be the voice of change.”

‘I knew the only way I was going to survive and get out of that situation is if I pushed on to get my education and provide a life for my daughters.’

Brentwood

“I came from a family of educators, specifically teachers, principals and administrators. Because of that influence, the importance of education was instilled within me at a very young age.

“The turning point of my life occurred when I became a victim of domestic violence as a young woman. He was my high school sweetheart. I knew the only way I was going to survive and get out of that situation is if I pushed on to get my education and provide a life for my daughters. That was a defining moment.

“I went on despite the abuse to finish college. Being in that situation motivated me to persevere and to push on through education, no matter what adversity I was facing in my personal life.

I always believed you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. So, if you want change, you have to be that change. You have to find that change within yourself.

“Moving from Queens to Long Island, I became involved with a local youth program and held many hats. It led me into running for our local school board, along with the fact that I had an autistic son. This was all new to me and I had no clue how I was going to navigate through this new challenge. I knew I was going to have to be his biggest advocate to ensure he received the proper services to thrive like any other student.

“I always believed you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. So, if you want change, you have to be that change. You have to find that change within yourself. While my kids were getting ready for school, I would use that time to impart words of wisdom. I would just always have some kind of one-liner to give them about life and how to survive it.

“One day, I had a principal tell me, ‘You’d be great as a school board member,’ and another person said, ‘I wish I had a mother like you,’ and that resonated. I was approached by some individuals who were willing to support my campaign. I got my clock cleaned. But someone in the community said, ‘Run again and see what happens because this community needs someone like you.’ I ran again and won.

“The hopes and dreams I have for my children are the same ones I have for everyone’s child in the district. It started with my four children and I adopted another 19,000 children.”

‘I wanted to give a platform to people that are missing so that victims gain closure and some comfort.’

Brentwood

“I’ve always had an eye for radio and television. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in school, and I was a little intimidated growing up because nobody was going to school for TV. I had to take a leap of faith. I obtained a degree in radio and television and created a platform called ‘Tee Talk’ on which I became known as Ms. Tee Talk. My goal was to give back to Long Island, so I have interviewed more than 100 people, from chefs, to photographers, to people who have their own businesses. Long Island didn’t have that, and it has been great to see the light on people’s faces when they are made to feel included. People from all over the country have now been on the show. It has been an amazing journey.

It’s a big risk to be in TV because you have to know somebody or you have to do cartwheels, but it’s worth it.

“I also wanted to test my skills a little bit, so I created a show called ‘Missing On Long Island.’ I wanted to give a platform to people that are missing so that victims gain closure and some comfort. The first episode is about Sofia McKenna, which went viral with over 220,000 views on YouTube. The second episode just came out. Their storylines are about what happened before they went missing. Hundreds of thousands of people have gone missing on Long Island in the last 20 years, and there has never been a show created about it. Now I have been working on ‘Tee Talk’ and ‘Missing on Long Island’ for the past 8 years. I edit, shoot, and do everything for them. It hasn’t been the smoothest journey, but when I know that people have smiles on their faces when they come onto ‘Tee Talk,’ or concerned parents and family members on ‘Missing on Long Island’ have that platform, it definitely makes me feel accomplished. I have learned that practice makes permanent.

“It’s important to invest in yourself. It’s always important to pour into yourself and to keep learning. I pride myself on my work ethic and staying connected to my Long Island roots. It’s a big risk to be in TV because you have to know somebody or you have to do cartwheels, but it’s worth it. Those two shows, which are very different, are my entire life. I always put my heart, energy and time into them to really make them boom and people love it.”