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 became a United States citizen because this country is a place of hope.’

Frenal Mezilas, Lindenhurst

“I have been drawing since I was 10 years old in Haiti. My parents didn’t know much about art, but they never stopped me from doing it.

“My father was a tailor who made school uniforms for all the kids in our neighborhood. Once, I accidentally got paint all over his fabrics! I was so afraid of his reaction that I hid at our neighbor’s house but, surprisingly, he didn’t get as angry as I thought he would.

“When people discovered that I was an artist, they wanted me to paint their portraits. My classmates started paying me for drawings, and I used that money to buy paints and canvases. I painted on the street and perfected the technique of drawing faces and landscapes. I love abstract art and bright colors. I painted every day.

“In 1995, when I was 16, I got a painting job at a factory that made sculptures for tourists. I got a job working as a painter in a factory that made papier-mâché crafts that were exported to other countries.

“That job was a blessing to me! I had to bike 20 miles every weekday to get from my home to the factory. I worked from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. I then rode my bike to school, where I stayed from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. I didn’t get home until nearly 8 p.m. and often took sculptures to paint over the weekend because, if I didn’t make my quota, I would not get paid. The factory provided all of the art materials, and I also used the supplies to create my own paintings.

“Within three years, I became a supervisor. I remained in that job for seven years before I left to attend college. Haiti had only one fine art university, and I applied late. The school officials were going to deny me entry, but they changed their minds when I showed them one of my paintings.

“I always wanted to go to college, so I could not quit school. In Haiti, private schools are very expensive. Public schools are free but, if your grades drop too low, you will get expelled and your education is over. I won art awards when I was in high school, and that helped me get into college. In 2010, there was an earthquake in Haiti, and I lost many artworks. I realized that I would not be able to make a living there, and my brother helped me get a visa to move to America.”

Some of my students cannot hold a paintbrush, so they paint with a sponge; others are blind, so they create paper mâché sculptures based on touch.

“After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I went to Mexico, where I painted and attended more art classes. I was inspired by Mexican craftsmanship, and I started experimenting with mixed media. My art is very recognizable because it’s three-dimensional. I create abstract and surrealism backgrounds and then attach ceramic masks that protrude from the canvas. I like mixing surrealism with realism and cubism. My style embodies years of artistic exploration, and I’m proud to have created my own distinctive style.

“In 2011, I moved to the United States. I came to Long Island because my cousin lived in Uniondale, and I exhibited my work at libraries and Hofstra. I got a job teaching at Creative Art Space in Lynbrook and stayed there for eight years. Today my full-time job is teaching art to people with disabilities. I became a United States citizen because this country is a place of hope. There are so many opportunities for artists here, especially in New York. It is very rewarding when people appreciate my art. My ultimate goal is to have a big studio where I can create and teach. I want to exhibit my artwork all over the world and for people to continue to enjoy my creations even after I am gone.

“In 2013, I applied for citizenship. In 2014, I got married and my son was born. Once I got my residency papers, I got a job at Walmart; I eventually became a manager. In 2017, my friend told me about a job at Adults and Children with Learning [& Developmental] Disabilities in Bethpage. I applied and was hired! I left Walmart and started teaching activities and art at ACLD. It makes me feel so good to help people who really need help. Some of my students cannot hold a paintbrush, so they paint with a sponge. Others are blind, so they create papier mâché sculptures based on touch. This job is one that I put all my heart into.”

Interviewed by Meagan J. Meehan

‘Dreams don’t always happen when you want them to. They happen when they’re supposed to.’


“I didn’t really pursue filmmaking until I was in a car accident and subsequently beat cancer. I grew up in Massapequa, and I loved going to the multiplex and imagining myself either in the movies or creating them. My mother emphasized financial stability over following dreams, but my father was a musician, and he understood my creative impulses. I was devastated when I lost him to a sudden heart attack 25 years ago. At the time of my father’s death, I was married with two children. I had a steady job because I needed to support my family, but I had secretly decided that I was going to fulfill my childhood dream of making movies and honor my father’s memory.

“Shortly after going through a difficult divorce, I was in a minor car accident and experienced back pain. When I went to the doctor to get an X-ray, they discovered that I had a cancerous tumor in my kidney. The back pain was unrelated to the cancer but led to it being caught early and successfully removed without any reoccurrence. Over 95 percent of my kidney was saved. Essentially, that car accident saved my life.

“In 2019, I established the New York Long Island Film Festival [NYLIFF]. Numerous films in various stages of production on Long Island are the products of connections made between networking artists at NYLIFF. I’m very proud of that. For me, it is about making a difference and helping others to realize their dreams as well. And I always say, work hard and be patient. Dreams don’t always happen when you want them to. They happen when they’re supposed to.”

Interviewed by Meagan Meehan

‘Music has always been a source of therapy for me. It’s one of my happy places.’


“A couple of years ago, a friend of mine asked me if I’d be interested in jamming in an all-female Bon Jovi tribute band, Radio Active. Over time, the band changed, and I’m the last woman standing from the original band. I wasn’t going anywhere.

“My heart is in this. I’m the lead vocalist. I always wanted to be in a band because it’s my passion. We became a full cover band about a year ago, and we love covering songs from female artists like Joan Jett and Pat Benatar.

“Since I was a little kid, I was raised in a household with music always being played on the record players. My mom and dad introduced me to music at a very early age. We would listen to ’50s music and just sing along.

Local restaurants, tattoo shops, music stores, even other musicians, came to the festival to support me during the worst time in my life.

“I was in Catholic school growing up and had to sing along to church music, and I rebelled, which led me to rock and roll. Our first gig as Radio Active Band was on Long Island. Singing up there is such a rush. It’s a happy feeling. We put a lot of work into our covers, so it’s really great when we see people appreciate and enjoy our performances. It takes a lot of practice, and it isn’t easy to get up and perform in front of people.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. I actually went to rehearsal for as long as I possibly could. Music has always been a source of therapy for me. It’s one of my happy places. When I’m singing and performing on stage, all of my stress eases away. The fact that I had my band and bandmates as an outlet really helped me get through what I was dealing with, both physically and mentally.

“My bandmates would check on me all the time and bring me things. We moved rehearsal closer to my house so I wouldn’t miss out. I had to have two surgeries and seven months of chemotherapy and radiation.

“A local Long Island bar had a music festival in my honor to raise money for me. It was amazing to see my community members come together. Local restaurants, tattoo shops, music stores, even other musicians, came to the festival to support me during the worst time in my life.”

Interviewed by Melanie Gulbas

‘When you have a connection with an animal, they can really soothe who you are inside.’


“My mom was an immigrant from Guyana, working two jobs while my grandmother raised me. Horses were not an option for someone living on Section 8 housing in Brooklyn. She saved money to take me on our first vacation to a dude ranch, and that changed my life. After, I wanted to ride, but she said we couldn’t afford it. I met a New York City police officer who helped me when I was 12. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today. When you have a connection with an animal, they can really soothe who you are inside. I’ve been riding for 32 years, and I’ve been a professional equestrian since I was 23.

“Providing access to the officer’s horses created a space of exposure to equestrian sports, which in turn provided discipline to keep me straight in school and my priorities, gave me responsibility and helped prepare me for the U.S. Navy in missile defense and intelligence. Right now, I’m focused on the Metropolitan Equestrian Team, which I founded in 2010. MET is the only nonprofit in the globe that does education and horseback riding, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Never give up on your dreams. Work for what you want. Hard work brings positive results.

“What the officer did for me is what I’ve developed for MET. We utilize the equestrian sports to keep kids interested in academics and get them into over 400 colleges with equestrian teams. It’s really important to be an example to our students because of that perseverance the police officer — and my mom— instilled in me. MET started with one location in Brooklyn. Now our headquarters is in Times Square, and we’re in nine other states.

“MET provides collegiate advisory, horseback riding, after-school tutoring, leadership classes and programs around STEAM. We make our students diverse in their portfolio of experience to become strong college applicants. MET is designed for the experiences provided to me by an equestrian community that loved me during my mother’s financial hard times. They took me into their homes and provided me with access to equestrian sports and a lifestyle I never would have been able to achieve otherwise. I’m able to now provide that to the next generation. The values Heidi passed on to me that I pass on to my students are: Never give up on your dreams. Work for what you want. Hard work brings positive results.”

Interviewed by Liza Burby

‘My father always pushed me to be productive and independent. He is just that type of person.’


“I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. My mom was working as a nurse at Brunswick Hospital, and my dad was about 20 years into the moving business, when my mom found out there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t acting the way normal babies do when they’re born.

“During that time, she had me go to early intervention at the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Greenlawn. I started speaking at age 4. There was a teacher there who was pretty much a godsend. Back then, I was doing echolalia and things like that.

“I ended up going to public school for almost 10 years. It was like a nightmare. Fifth grade was the worst. I was a ticking time bomb when it came to anger issues, and it just got so out of whack that the doctors told my parents there would be no way I would progress forward. Then, one day, it was like something just clicked. I wanted to be more mature, and I slowly started to come out of my cocoon.

I don’t like being labeled by my disability.

“In a year and a half, I finally matured to a point where I was able to function and learn, but there were still a lot of things I needed to catch up on.

“I was a big fan of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ growing up. When I was about 15, my dad and I would travel to the railroad museum out east to watch the trains. We became volunteers in 2007, and as years went by, I joined a few organizations keeping up with the hobby of trains and railroad preservation.

“My father always pushed me to be productive and independent. He is just that type of person. So, I decided to just do it. I got my high school diploma in September 2017. I don’t like being labeled by my disability. You can’t actually see that I am autistic. Even though I am, it doesn’t mean that I am going to slow people down.

“The pandemic screwed up a lot of my plans. I just moved out of my mom’s house when the COVID outbreak started. Because of it, I didn’t know what I was going to do for work or how I was going to support myself.

“I started working for Amazon in April. It was tough at first. I went through the training and started to follow a couple of guys who really gave me inspiration. They said, ‘It’s easy once you get used to it,’ and that I should keep going. So I did, and I got better at it.”