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 believe that the support that I got from my disability encouraged me to support others.’

Wyandanch

“When I was born, I was a big baby. Like 9 pounds. And the doctors at that time, they used forceps. The doctor, instead of pulling my neck, he pulled my arm, and he damaged the nerves in my right arm. So, I’ve lived with Erb’s palsy all my life. It is technically a handicap, but I never thought of it that way. My parents never put that in my head. My father was a strong African American man. He served in the army. He was a Suffolk County police officer. He always told me that I can do whatever I wanted to. Between him and my mom, they never put limitations on me. I would ride bikes with my brother and climb trees.

“I am a teaching assistant. I’ve been there for 23 years. But a lot of the wonderful teachers that I work with, they’ve always said, ‘You’re the teacher, go ahead, do your thing.’ But I owe my teaching experience from my sister. She’s my oldest sister. She was very protective. And it was always a teaching moment in the house. I think it was destined for her to be a teacher before she became a teacher. If you said something wrong, she’d correct the grammar or something like that. It’s like a lot of things that I have learned watching her, I put it into the children.

She always told the kids, ‘You are Kings and Queens. You can do whatever you want to do, you just have to put your mind to it.’ The same things she used to tell me when I was little.

“She was a kindergarten teacher at the school that I presently work at. She always told the kids, ‘You are Kings and Queens. You can do whatever you want to do, you just have to put your mind to it.’ The same things she used to tell me when I was little. She was a gem. The school that I work at, she went from being a teacher to an assistant principal. When she passed away, she was the assistant principal. And we have a garden at the school for her. She’s there with me every day. She just touched so many lives.

“I believe that the support that I got from my disability encouraged me to support others. It pushes me to say, ‘I did it with support. I’m putting good out there. You can do the same thing. You can better yourself.’ And that’s what I got from my dad. That’s what I got from my sister. Always striving to go to the next level. And I think it’s all divinely carved for me.”

‘Even as a teenage mom, they always made me feel that no matter what I wanted to do, I could accomplish it.’

Wyandanch

“My dad got sick out of nowhere. He started losing a ton of weight. He started to get weak. I found out he had stage 4 lung cancer. Three weeks later, he passed away. It was one month from when I graduated with my master’s in mental health counseling. I was there, I was holding his hand. I was completely distraught. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to become a counselor. I didn’t want to hear anyone’s stories. I was going through it. I didn’t have the strength to help anyone.

“But I knew I had to do something. I knew I was called to do something. I was already working in the spirits industry, so I stuck with that and moved up in the field to management. During that time, I sent some pictures to an agent. She called me into her office a week later and we talked for an hour.

I knew was creative and my dad was creative. It kept me close. It was a way I could keep that connection of creativity.

“That time of hopelessness with my dad’s death forced me to be creative and think outside the box. I was in the theater program in high school and church. Acting and modeling was a hobby of mine and my dad was the guitar player in a lot of the plays I was in at church. It was the one thing I knew was creative and my dad was creative. It kept me close. It was a way I could keep that connection of creativity. I’ve been featured on some Buzzfeed stations and Doctor Oz as a guest. It’s opened up a different world. I gave a Tedx Talk on generational hostility. My faith says he sees it. I think about that smile he had when he saw me off to the prom. That’s what I imagined him doing if he was in the audience. I always think of him. I just hope that whatever I’ve done so far has made him proud.

“I couldn’t have done it without the strong community support and strong allies and the spirit of my father and my family. I’m a single mom. I had a child when I was 15. But my parents rallied behind me and made sure I had everything I needed to accomplish my goals. I finished high school on time with honors and went to college that fall. Even as a teenage mom, they always made me feel that no matter what I wanted to do, I could accomplish it. And I want to carry that messaging on to my children. You may not be able to pass on money or a house, but if you can pass on hope, people can get all of that.”