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 learned that art is a way to transform an experience or feeling so that I can see it in a truer way.’

New Hyde Park

“I’m an Armenian American, and a lot of my work in the arts has been connected to the Armenian genocide and recognition of it in the U.S. My grandfather was a child survivor and became a famous cubist impressionist painter in Cairo, Egypt, where a lot of the diaspora Armenians went.

“When my family moved to Queens and subsequently to Melville, my grandfather was with us the whole time. I was really close to him and I would watch him paint and create this meaningful life that was almost taken away from him. I realized that art was a way to make meaning of our own lives. That led me to an immersion in the arts, and now I’m a poet, essayist, musician and teacher.

“Armenians are tethered to a rich, cultural past with beautiful artistry. We’re slightly romantic, but we’re also resilient and tough. My grandfather’s craft helped me realize I couldn’t be anything else except an educator. I saw how important it is for us to have voice and tackle issues through writing and art. There’s this idea of teaching and helping people create change for themselves, but being an English teacher helped me explore the questions I had for myself as an artist. What better way to learn about poetry than to teach poetry?

We’re attracted to a beautiful painting or a great film because it transports us into a truer place. I explored my identity and my students’ lives through poetry.

“Teaching is a student-centered art. I run a songwriting club, and it’s a way for me to understand what makes people feel alive when they’re listening to music. When I was a kid, I’d play guitar and sing alternative rock on Long Island and in New York. I would cover songs that inspired people to embrace life. I made dozens of albums and performed more than 1,100 times across America. A commitment to art, whether it be through the process of making it or having it around in our lives, is a commitment to making meaning of our lives.

“I’ve learned that art is a way to transform an experience or feeling so that I can see it in a truer way. We’re attracted to a beautiful painting or a great film because it transports us into a truer place. I explored my identity and my students’ lives through poetry. In my music, I’ve explored the extent to which sound can lift us and bring us to these rooms which we don’t visit often and should visit more. In the classroom it all comes together.”

‘I am a new father and I want to teach my daughter how I always live my life by just listening to people.’

New Hyde Park

“I love being a geriatrician. For me, geriatric medicine is not just the care of older adults and vulnerable people; it’s the care of families as a whole. We help people navigate through complex health systems and diseases. Most importantly, we help people to live more functional and enjoyable lives. Many patients come in with a list of 10 doctors and 15 medications. It is my job to try to simplify things so that they can walk or eat better, and spend more quality time with their families.

“My father is a geriatrician as well. There’s a photo that he showed at my wedding of me as a 3-month-old reading a geriatric journal with him. I guess it was ingrained in me that I was going to go into this field. I liked science and writing; medicine incorporates everything. You can make such an impact as a physician, even if it’s not medical. In April 2020, when family members were not allowed in the ER, I spent time with a man who was in his 90s and only had hours of life left. We got his daughter on the phone, and she said incredibly personal things that I don’t think any person should have the privilege of hearing, but we’re there to help facilitate that. Her partner got on and whispered, ‘I don’t know if you can hear me, but I want to ask for permission to marry your daughter.’ I was taken aback. Then he said, ‘No matter where you’re going and no matter what happens, I want you to know that I’m going to be here to care for your daughter forever.’ I was speechless to be included in such a personal moment. The fact that we’re there to facilitate that is more valuable than any medicine than I could have given. The man died a few hours later, but we saved their lives in some ways by allowing that to happen. That experience drives the way I practice medicine.

If you’re not learning something new every day in medicine, you’re not looking around enough. There are certainly not enough of us geriatricians, but it is the most rewarding job.

“It was the most personal moment in the least personal way. I am a new father and I want to teach my daughter how I always live my life by just listening to people. Having that humility that you don’t know much allows you to learn a lot. If you’re not learning something new every day in medicine, you’re not looking around enough. There are certainly not enough of us geriatricians, but it is the most rewarding job.”

‘I wanted to challenge myself to do something influential.’

Lou Bernardi, New Hyde Park

“I’m a college baseball coach and my season was canceled due to COVID-19. People can sulk or use this opportunity to help others. I decided I can’t just sit home and do nothing.

“I didn’t get sick, and I didn’t lose my job. I was lucky, so I wanted to challenge myself to do something influential and effect change in a positive way. There were a lot of people who helped with the collection, donation and distribution of food. Overall, we probably fed over 5,000 people. A lot of restaurants helped out and donated meals along the way.

“I led a huge toy drive for Toys for Tots, donated over 500 toys to the Marine Corps in Garden City. We donated 150 lunches to the Randall’s Island counter-terrorism unit for Christmas, handed out gloves, masks, hand sanitizers, whatever I could get my hands on. We donated some food to some hospitals; we went to some food banks with various organizations.

In light of the pandemic, ordinary citizens are giving above and beyond what they’re expended to do and just care for others.

“Our mission was first responder-based. They were out there on the front lines and getting sick. It was great for morale to go to these various precincts. When the whole ‘defund the police’ and anti-police movement happened and we took that as an opportunity to double down and say, ‘A month ago we were praising these people and now we’re bashing them and telling them they shouldn’t exist.’

“So, it was another way to use our platform and influence something good and give back and help others. In light of the pandemic, ordinary citizens are giving above and beyond what they’re expended to do and just care for others.

“I’m a New Hyde Park resident and we just donated a batting cage to the New Hyde Park Police Athletic League to let the kids develop their skills.

“My motto throughout this whole journey is giving back and helping others. Stand for what you believe in; if you have any outlet whatsoever, whether is social media or email, use your network to promote some good because there’s a lot of bad stuff that we see.”

‘At first, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing but slowly, as you start memorizing more and more, a sense of accomplishment really drives you.’

Mariyah Rajshahiwala, New Hyde Park

“I finished my sophomore year, and nothing had panned out in terms of internships. Other people were completing internships and I felt like I was wasting my time. I had been on and off memorizing the Quran the past eight years, but didn’t get far, so to deal with the anxiety of feeling left behind I started to refresh what I knew already. I felt at peace every time I was doing it, so I decided to take the year off and see how far I got memorizing. I knew that if this was something I wanted to do, I wouldn’t be able to do it in my current environment. I was not in the right headspace here. I was struggling with college and didn’t know if what I was doing was what I wanted to do.

“I needed to leave New York. There are a few centers around the world where you can memorize the Quran. I had known a couple of people who had gone to Nairobi, so I decided let me just go and see how it is. Going to Nairobi was a completely fresh start. It was Quran all the time. I had never gone through such a rigorous program. At first, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing but slowly, as you start memorizing more and more, a sense of accomplishment really drives you. If I could do five parts, there’s nothing stopping me from doing 10, or 20, and then pretty soon you’re done.

Now I’m doing stuff I’m passionate about and I’m happy. Quran really helped. I know it’s a holy book but for me it’s so much more; it’s part of me.

“Memorizing the Quran is physical, but it’s also such a spiritual journey. You have no motivation other than wanting to do it for yourself on a spiritual level. It took me 15 months to memorize the 30 parts. Once I was done, I didn’t believe it. It was bittersweet. All I had thought about for 15 months was the Quran—to all of a sudden not have it be an integral part of my life was hard to deal with. I was initially pre-med and it took memorizing the Quran and realizing how much fun I had with this insane task to see I was not happy pursuing pre-med. It gave me courage to say pre-med’s not what I want to do; I want to pursue publishing and magazine editing.

“Before, I was super busy because of science labs and all that but I was always lacking. Now I’m doing stuff I’m passionate about and I’m happy. Quran really helped. I know it’s a holy book but for me it’s so much more; it’s part of me.”