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’ve always had a passion for DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], even before I knew the term.’

April Francis, Massapequa

“I’m proud to call myself a Caribbean-American, with familial roots stretching back to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Jamaica. My father, a retired chef who owned a restaurant, introduced me to mouth-watering Caribbean delicacies like johnnycakes, cornmeal porridge and jerk chicken.

“Education was another fundamental aspect of my upbringing, and my family migrated to the United States for better opportunities. This inspired me and my siblings to pursue higher education, and thanks to my family’s support, I hold a bachelor of arts, master of arts, postgraduate certificate of advanced studies in educational leadership, and [am] currently pursuing a doctorate in education policy at Hofstra University.

“As an educator, I’ve always had a passion for DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], even before I knew the term. Presently, I am the director of DEI at Eastern Suffolk BOCES and an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Professional Development. I aim to ensure students feel valued in their school communities, with access, support and opportunities to excel equitably.

When we build schools that embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, we remove barriers, and every student feels a sense of belonging.

“As the director of DEI, I’m thrilled to partner with fellow educators to implement this framework and positively impact future generations. Of course, change doesn’t happen overnight, as disability activist Judith Heumann so eloquently put it. It takes years of strategizing, sharing and pulling all the levers we can, but suddenly, something tips.

“Some days, I wish we could change things overnight, but I know that creating access for the most vulnerable and marginalized students paves the way for a more inclusive environment where every child can thrive, just like the curb-cut effect concept.

“When we build schools that embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, we remove barriers, and every student feels a sense of belonging. I just want to give all students opportunities to succeed and the same support and love my family gave to me after traveling here to America.”

Interviewed by Starr Fuentes

‘I asked my guidance counselor, “Can you go to college for filmmaking?”’

Charles Foerschner, Massapequa

“I was a cameraman before I even knew it. I’d watch movies and be so moved and affected by them. For weeks I’d be acting like characters in them. I wanted to embrace the influence film had on me. I was always shooting stop motion with my G.I. Joe figures and making movies or TV shows with a small video camera.

“In high school, my friends would skateboard and surf. Instead of joining them, I’d show up with my camera. I did it because it was fun, not realizing it was art. I asked my guidance counselor, ‘Can you go to college for filmmaking?’ He recommended vocational high school, and later, Five Towns College. My professor, Sol Negrin, a big cinematographer, had connections in the IATSE Local 600. He helped push my career along, getting me an internship at Panavision. I met a bunch of camera people and eventually got my first job offer on ‘Law & Order: SVU.’

I’m so glad my obsession with film turned into something I could proudly make into a career.

“A lot has changed from when I started in the business 15 years ago. On set, sometimes you would have to fake it until you made it. If you couldn’t do it, they didn’t keep you. Now I have employees under me, and I constantly tell them there are no stupid questions. I want to create a department that is collaborative and respectful. I did seven seasons of ‘Elementary,’ which was an amazing place to grow and learn. I made such progress in my career on that show. Later, I worked on ‘The Gifted Man,’ and Jonathan Demme, who directed ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ directed the pilot! I did three years on ‘Power’ and ‘Power Book II: Ghost.’

“This all led to me working on ‘The Daily Show.’ I got a call that a long-running Comedy Central show was looking to staff some camera assistants to test new camera systems. They couldn’t tell us what show it was, but they said it was going to be a really good opportunity. Without even hearing that it was ‘The Daily Show,’ I knew I had to take it. Now it has been two years! I’m more confident and comfortable in my career at this point. I’ve learned that if I don’t know the answer to something, I’m going to ask for help or admit that I’m unfamiliar. That’s always met with positivity. I’m so glad my obsession with film turned into something I could proudly make into a career.”

Interviewed by Iris Wiener

‘I thought about teaching, and my wife was completely supportive and told me to go for it.’

Christopher Diehl, Massapequa

“I’m a CPA by trade. I was in accounting for five years, and then I transitioned into finance. I was working at my job for very long hours. Sometimes not getting home until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and my wife was doing the same thing. One day we were talking, and we thought, this is not great, and it’s not the best for our kids. We both decided it was time for a change. I thought about teaching, and my wife was completely supportive and told me to go for it.

“My first day of student teaching, I was 36 years old, and I go into a seventh-grade classroom, and I was petrified. A grown man facing 12-year-olds. But every year since then, it’s been better and easier and more interesting. It took me a few years to feel like I was a good, competent teacher. Now I feel I fully understand exactly what I need to do. I totally get the kids and where they’re coming from and what they individually need to succeed.

“On the first day of school, I tell the kids, this is where math gets difficult, but they’re here because it’s achievable. There’s nothing that they can’t do. It’s just a matter of creating the path and understanding the obstacles and how to overcome them. And that’s really what my job is, to help them navigate understanding what the goals are and what the obstacles are. I truly value the rapport and atmosphere that we have in our classroom. I want it to be friendly and open. I love talking about music and baseball with my students.

“In life, you’re never going to be asked to solve a quadratic formula. But your ability to look at given information, synthesize it and come up with a solution and then understand what the conclusion is and how it applies to the problem, is something you’re going to do every day.

“This little piece of the lunar module was given to me my last year as a gift by a student who is now an aerospace engineer. She told me that I inspired her to do math. And I have many letters from kids who say I have something to do with their success, and they’ve all done such amazing things. It’s so humbling for them to say that I had something to do with that. It’s such an incredible feeling.

“You hear a lot of bad things about this younger generation, but that’s because they haven’t met these kids yet. They are going to be what propels us forward. They are thoughtful and intelligent, and they have more perspective than I did at 16 and 17. They give me hope for the future.”

Interviewed by Maggie Melito

‘Any police department has its share of danger. Just watch the news any night; cops are putting themselves in danger every single day.’

Massapequa

“There were moments of sheer terror. I started off as a police officer in the Bronx in 1988, got promoted to detective and wound up doing undercover. I got to buy heroin and cocaine, legally obviously. Maybe that’s where my acting comes from. I was shot at a couple of times. I had a gun put to my head. Thankfully, our field team came to save me before he pulled the trigger. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.

“Any police department has its share of danger. Just watch the news any night; cops are putting themselves in danger every single day. It wasn’t just me. But I had my share in 20 years; it’s hard to avoid.

“I was a first responder on 9/11. I can replay the day frame by frame. As I was driving in, I remember seeing the towers burning from the Expressway. I knew it was going to be a day like no other in my life. We were kind of helpless on that day, just hearing the screaming on the radio from cops that were in the tower and knowing how helpless we were, knowing there was nothing we could do. It was very difficult to hear radio transmissions from police officers who are no longer with us.

“My central role was in the recovery efforts, like many of us in the detective bureau. I was assigned to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Basically, we were investigating the largest crime scene in the history of the United States. We were charged with looking for people, or just parts of people. There were no whole bodies; everything was pulverized.

“As they cleared out Ground Zero, they put it all on barges and dumped it in the middle of the debris field. When it came over, it was so hot, it was still smoking, There was so much methane gas. There were puddles where bubbles were coming out of the water and, of course, everything was covered in dust. At first, there were no masks. We were told that the air was fine. Then one day, I remember they came in with trucks filled with canister masks. The smell, I can still smell it today.

“When you’re a police officer, you know what death smells like. The work went on. We had 12 hours on, 12 hours off. I worked on Thanksgiving, my wedding anniversary, nothing else mattered. The nation was in shock.”

I have many friends who worked next to me in the landfill who are not here today. It’s a reminder that life is precious and to enjoy every day. I try to.

“Eventually, PTSD got the best of me. It took a few years for it to kick in to the point it was interfering with my daily life. Cops are very stubborn people. Instead of seeking help, we like to suppress. I felt like I should be able to deal with it, but when it becomes overwhelming, you have to try to normalize yourself. I retired in 2008 as a detective squad commander.

“Along with the PTSD, I have breathing issues, sinus issues, stomach issues, sleep apnea. It’s all still with me today, almost 22 years later; it’s not going anywhere. I have many friends who worked next to me in the landfill who are not here today. It’s a reminder that life is precious and to enjoy every day. I try to.

“After I retired, I went into the private sector. I went to Dowling College as director of campus safety, then was promoted to associate vice president and was able to help the college get accredited for its criminal justice program.

“A headhunter found me after three and half years and recruited me for a security company. I wound up as vice president of operations and eventually went into business for myself, doing executive protection and transportation. It was very stressful, having my own business, a very high-pressure environment, being responsible for other people’s safety [celebrities, CEOs]. I didn’t want that amount of stress.

“I’ve always had a culinary background, though not formally trained. I wound up doing work as a private chef, cooking private dinners, more as a hobby than a career. I cooked for priests in a rectory. I just wanted to do something.

“I’d always acted, though very rarely was I able to do shows in the police department. But once I retired, I stayed very connected to theater. I was in several productions: ‘The Producers,’ ‘The Odd Couple,’ ‘Deathtrap.’ I started getting involved heavily in theater because acting, being somebody else, was the perfect solution for me to combat the PTSD, just being out of myself.”

I’ve had psychologists tell me you need to stay with theater, because there were very dark times, post 9/11. When I immersed myself in theater, my life changed for the better.

“I met the director of Studio Theatre, and he had a small youth program at the time. At first, I didn’t want to be involved at that high a level. But I had business experience from what I did at Dowling, maximizing profits, managing budgets. I knew marketing, I knew public relations. We partnered up in January of 2020, and two months later the world shut down.

“When COVID hit, the impact was staggering, not just on our company, but theaters across the United States; everybody was suffering. We had to find every possible way to keep money flowing into the business, to keep it alive. Thankfully, we had a landlord who worked with us, and the government stepped in with grant money. We basically begged and borrowed from anywhere we could to keep the business afloat.

“We were fortunate enough to get an outdoor venue at Firemen’s Memorial Park to be able to keep the youth program going. Because it was outside, we were able to run a theater program and stay in compliance with all the COVID restrictions. We were fortunate to be able to give the children some sense of normalcy in their lives, despite what was going on in the world.

“But really, it’s not about money, it’s about having a passion for theater, being able to produce quality shows and even being fortunate enough to act in some of them. It’s a labor of love, to use a colloquialism, but it has to be. It’s got to be about the love of our craft, the love of the arts. It’s never about money.

“For me, theater has saved my life. PTSD isn’t just PTSD. It has other effects on the body, physically, psychologically. So finding my passion in theater and immersing myself in the theater world and, especially, the youth theater world, makes me feel so uplifted. Without having a passion and something to occupy my mind in a way that’s creative, along with the love and support of my wife and two daughters, I couldn’t handle the PTSD. I’ve had psychologists tell me you need to stay with theater, because there were very dark times, post 9/11. When I immersed myself in theater, my life changed for the better.”

Interviewed by Barbara Schuler

‘When you meet someone with albinism, don’t underestimate what they can achieve.’

Massapequa

“I was born with albinism, and my parents encouraged me to not let my limited vision stop me from trying new things. I started taking art classes at The Tiny Artist Children’s Arts Studio. I loved hand-making paintings and giving them away as gifts. Making art is a great tool of communication for me because it helps me express what I’m seeing. I also take photos for inspiration, and zooming into those images has helped me gain an understanding of detail that I normally don’t see. Many people don’t realize that most people with albinism are legally blind or have some kind of vision impairment.

“While this can create challenges, I do not view having albinism as a negative thing, rather a positive; it is a part of who I am, but it does not define me. When you meet someone with albinism, don’t underestimate what they can achieve. Growing up, I had a very strong sense of community. I went boating with my family and played outside with my friends. I was in middle school when Superstorm Sandy hit, and my house was flooded. Everyone in the neighborhood came together to support each other.

I am excited to continue growing as an artist and individual with my family and friends around me.

“When I was in college, my neighbor told me about Splashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization that creates art for hospitals. I became their volunteer coordinator, and I love it because it allows me to honor my love for art and community all at once. I am also a Junior Advisory Council member for the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, where I advocate for people in the albinism community. Throughout college, I was also a MassArt volunteer opportunities coordinator and the pioneer and lead peer mentor for MassArt MAICEI, a program which allows students labeled as having severe intellectual disabilities to take part in the college experience.

“I would like to be an art teacher one day, but I don’t have any very specific goals right now. I am just figuring things out and leaving the door open to see where life leads me. I am excited to continue growing as an artist and individual with my family and friends around me.”

‘Yoga has taught me to just enjoy the ride and not feel like where you are is set in stone.’

Massapequa

“An unlucky injury led me to a lucky thing: finding yoga. I got into yoga 12 years ago. I was playing lacrosse for Adelphi and I hurt myself after one of my practices. My buddy gave me a yoga DVD and I gave it a shot. I stuck with the DVD for a long time, and it became almost a necessity. The repetition of that over months and years led me deeper into it. It got past the physical part and into more mental, emotional and spiritual until it became lifestyle.

“Before opening a yoga studio, I was driving a big truck. I started reading yoga books at truck stops and doing stretches and headstands between stops. I’ve sold insurance, worked in an auto body shop, delivered pizzas. I’ve been unemployed. But everything has led me to here. Yoga has taught me to just enjoy the ride and not feel like where you are is set in stone.

“I had been teaching in 2020 in a park in Massapequa. When it started to become cold out, the group we developed said, ‘Where are we going to go now? Where are we going to practice?’ So I started looking at places. Everything was small, low ceilings, not a lot of light. I became discouraged. I considered being a travel yoga teacher. One of my buddies found this spot on Facebook Marketplace and sent me the link for it. I saw high ceilings, big windows, open floors and multiple rooms. I thought if there was ever a place that could get people to continue their practice and open up, it would be in this big open space.

“I opened in December of 2020. I made it a goal in the beginning of that year that I wanted to open up a studio. I had a vision of creating somewhere that offered yoga around the clock and at all different levels and styles of practice. That wasn’t available in the yoga world with studios on Long Island.

“I’m blown away on how much these yogis are dedicated to showing up for themselves and their practice, and the friendships made between the students along the way, the bonding between everybody before, after and during the class. People come here and let their true colors shine. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can just come and get your practice in and leave, but something else draws people to each other here.”

Interviewed by Tracey Cheek

‘I’ve learned that I don’t have to hide parts of myself to be worthy of someone else’s love.’

Massapequa

“The first time I remember not liking how I looked was when I was 7. I tried to eat healthier and join sports. In middle school, the self-hatred became overwhelming.

“I had a lot of anxiety before going to school. By the end of seventh grade, I had an extreme dislike for myself. I skipped breakfast and worked out more.

“Then I wasn’t eating lunch. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted fast enough, so I began purging my dinner. In order to stop eating, you must hate everything about yourself.

“When ninth grade began, I was very malnourished. I told my friends that I had an eating disorder because I knew my parents had caught on and life was going to change.

“My parents brought me to a doctor who sent me to residential treatment. That means you live away from home in a house where you have 24/7 care. I didn’t think I was sick enough for it, but in hindsight, I know I needed that environment to get better. Then they sent me to a partial hospitalization program, which is like an eating disorder school.

If you feel like you need to do this, you should tell someone.

“In January, I returned to public school and attended an outpatient program. In March, COVID happened. I found that when I’m not left to my thoughts, I do really well, so I focus really hard on something, like sewing.

“I learned that I have an extreme perfectionist personality. I used to think no one will ever like me if I’m not a lawyer or a scientist. I never considered that I could pursue art.

“Afterwards, I realized there was never a reason to think that. I can do art and my parents will still love me. My mom suggested I go to a performing arts high school. Now I’m learning about all aspects of technical theater. I’m focusing on set construction and lighting design; we’ve also done special effects makeup, costumes and sound design.

“It’s the first time I have met people who are as passionate about things as me. I’ve learned that I don’t have to hide parts of myself to be worthy of someone else’s love.

“You can’t live your life restricting and purging. You either recover or die; there’s no other option. If you feel like you need to do this, you should tell someone. I still struggle with liking how I look, but I have so much that I don’t want to lose.”

Interviewed by Iris Wiener

‘People think I’m nuts, but after the Super Bowl, I’ll start thinking about what I’m doing for Halloween.’

Massapequa

“This started because we used to decorate and dress up for Halloween at a campground for a competition. One woman said, ‘You’re not going to win.’ I went up there and I didn’t win, and I was so annoyed.

“So I found talking skeletons online, and we went back up there and dressed up as a dead wedding party. My whole family and my kids went there from 6 years old and up.

I do this to raise money for cancer.

“We kept going back and winning every year. I first made a few skeletons when we saw ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie. The captain was first, and I had no ships yet. Then I kept adding stuff.

“People think I’m nuts, but after Super Bowl, I’ll start thinking about what I’m doing for Halloween. It’s all computerized. There’s two computers downstairs doing it. It’s insane. Each one of their heads has four RC Servos [robotic devices], which makes them move. I built my own mounts to make their heads nod and tilt and the jaw move. I sit there with a joystick and program each song. That’s in March, April and May. One song took me 40 hours. You get bonkers listening to the same song over and over again.

“The front of the ship I’ve had for 18 years. Four years ago, we made the back of the ship. We bought some PVC pipe and just started building. Everything is hand built. We start setting up the last week in August and finish in October.

“The skeletons are all my family, but my favorites are probably the two in the jail cell – Boris and Wilfred. Those are my first corpse skeleton that I made. Wilfred is very crude and shaky, but he works. I built the jail cell after them, and then I built a wall to hide my house.

“This is all for the tiny kids. One little girl has been coming here for 5 or 6 years. She sends pictures, even gave me a little bracelet. When you have 600 people in front of your house, it’s a lot of fun. We all dress up – I’m Captain Jack.

“I do this to raise money for prostate cancer. This year, I’ll probably split it between prostate cancer and breast cancer. I have prostate cancer, and now my ex-wife came down with breast cancer. When I lived in Wantagh, we raised over 10 grand. Here in Massapequa, we’ve raised around six grand so far. We have a collection box for donations.”

Interviewed by Tracey Cheek

‘I always wanted to do good in the community at large, and through Dagger, I’m able to do that.’

Massapequa

“As an artist, I was working in my studio one day. My dog, Dagger, came over and nudged me with his snout. I jokingly said to him, ‘Would you like to paint like Mommy?’ His tail started to wag, and I went with the joke. I took all the command words that he had learned in advanced training, incorporated them, and taught him how to paint. He has been painting since 2015 in the ‘DogVinci’ style of painting, which is true, pure abstract art.

“It has evolved so greatly. We have been featured on the ‘Rachael Ray Show,’ ‘Inside Edition’ and Animal Planet’s ‘Cute as Fluff.’ But the greatest was when a producer from PBS contacted us and wanted to do a whole show about Dagger. It’s called ‘Shelter Me: The Art of Kindness.

The greatest part about Dagger is that all the money, proceeds and paintings go to charity.

“Dagger won the [Bethpage Federal Credit Union] Best of Long Island Artist/Painter over people four years in a row, was the only non-human that’s won Channel 7’s ‘Hidden Heroes’ and has been inducted into the Animal Heroes Hall of Fame.

“He’s been in several books. One of them was written by award-winning Australian author, Laura Greaves. She wrote a whole chapter about Dagger in her book called ‘Amazing Dogs with Amazing Jobs.’

“Recently, he was in a book called ‘Adventure Dogs’ by Fern and Lauren Watt. Dagger was also included in the University of Oxford’s 2022 student workbook. It’s for students learning English as a second language, so they use these books all over the world.

“But the greatest part about Dagger is that all the money, proceeds and paintings go to charity. There’s a whole dropdown menu on our website [https://www.dogvinci.com/] so that when you purchase a painting, you pick out a charity and then all the money goes to that charity. We’re very passionate about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Canine Companions, of course, which is his family. I coined him ‘The Do Good Dog’ because I thought, ‘Wow, everything he does is really good.’

“His message is education and community service. So we try to promote that with everything that we do, which is so gratifying to me because that’s where I always wanted to be. I always wanted to do good in the community at large, and through Dagger, I’m able to do that. It’s just been so rewarding really and a great journey so far.”

Interviewed by Victoria Bell

‘I’ve always liked being creative and doing things with my hands … That led me to looking at my environment to figure out ways to improve it.’

Massapequa

“I’ve always liked being creative and doing things with my hands. I’m an active person; I can never be still. That led me to looking at my environment to figure out ways to improve it.

“If there’s something I need, I’ll try to make it. The satisfaction I get in making things is magnified whenever I share it with somebody else; when they feel like they can make something, it is even better.

“In college, I interned at a place that made Halloween masks and props. I never got to see how people reacted to what I made. With theater, you have to communicate with people, and you get the satisfaction of immediate feedback.

“I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where I studied industrial design, specializing in special effects like animatronics and makeup. Afterwards, I knew I wanted to do something in education. I got a job as a monitor in Roslyn and started building sets for their shows.

“My first set had a terrible design, but I saw that it was something I could improve. I’ve always liked seeing art with which you can interact and experience it. Sets are the magnification of experiencing art— people are using and climbing on them!

I teach students to work with intention. I don’t like to fail, but I’m also not afraid of it.

“I started working at Long Island High School for the Arts, where I teach production and managerial arts, which is all of the creative, hands-on things that happen in theater and film.

“For a bit of time, I was also a scenic carpenter for a company that made holiday windows. In a scene in ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ it’s the ’50s, and actors walk by holiday windows that I helped make! I’ve learned that doing different things opens you up to people.

“If you have the right attitude, other people want to work with you. I still build sets for high schools because I enjoy that there’s someone that puts a lot of commitment into making them, and it’s not haphazard. I give a lot of attention to design and make the performers’ experience special.

“It’s cathartic to make things. I appreciate seeing projects start from a pile of lumber and then made into usable pieces. Sometimes people take things for granted. I teach students to work with intention. I don’t like to fail, but I’m also not afraid of it. You learn more from failing and understanding why you failed.”

Interviewed by Iris Wiener