‘I want to help the community, and I don’t give up on people.’
“I grew up in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood when it was mostly Italian, Irish and Jewish. I was usually the only Black child in school. The neighborhood was beautiful when I was little, but it descended into poverty in the late 1960s. That degeneration was disappointing, but it instilled within me the urge to see a Black community cleaned up and for the people within it to have a better life. I first visited Long Island in 1966 because my sister had a house in Brentwood.
“In 1977, after I got married, I also moved to Brentwood. I have always had the inclination to help people in need. From 1977 to 1982, I worked with the Central Islip Psychiatric Center’s various outreach programs. I helped patients who were struggling after being discharged. Some had even become homeless. I remember a time when a female psychiatric patient was thanking me for helping her. I can get uncomfortable when people are complimenting me, and so I interrupted her. She asked me to let her say what she needed to say, explaining that her words were her only way of expressing her gratitude. I learned a lot from that experience. I want to help the community, and I don’t give up on people.
“Over the years, I have been inspired by my experiences enough to author inspirational books. I have learned that once we see other people as human beings, they become three-dimensional rather than one-dimensional. As for the world as it is today, I would like to see more outreach between the African American community and police officers. These individuals need to get to know each other more as human beings, not as stereotypes. Assumptions go out the window when you have the opportunity to get to know a person, and very few people are irredeemable. This is something that I learned while working for a prison as a chaplain during the heyday of the crack cocaine epidemic.”
‘David was eventually released from prison and came home to become a model citizen. He accomplished great things for Wyandanch.’
“I was born into Christianity, but I converted to Islam in 1975. From 1982 to 1992, I served on weekends with Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office as a prison chaplain. One of my most memorable success stories from my time working as a prison chaplain was meeting an inmate named David Bullard. I first encountered him when I was appointed a state mental health chaplain to service the prison on the Pilgrim State Hospital grounds in 1986. I never asked David many questions about his criminal history, but he told me that, before he became a Muslim, he spent many years of his youth in prison for various crimes. David was eventually released from prison and came home to become a model citizen. He accomplished great things for Wyandanch.
“In 1982, I established a mosque in Wyandanch and confronted drug dealers loitering on the street corners. 1988 was a busy year for me because I became the president of the school board in Wyandanch, as well as a deputy commissioner for the Town of Babylon. I used my positions to help secure a new senior center, renovate public pools and funding to build a new library. Still, crime was an ongoing problem. In 1989, I saw an article about our years-long issues dealing with criminal elements in the neighborhood, and a photo of David posting one of our warning flyers to drug dealers onto a pole ran with the story!
“David eventually became an assistant director of the Wyandanch Youth Program. He developed a Little League program and ballfield, improved their midget football program, and with his wife, Patty, he got approval to build the Wyandanch Youth Center. The football field adjacent to Wyandanch Park is called David Bullard Field. Sadly, David died in August 1997. I washed his body and performed his funeral service.”
Interviewed by Meagan Meehan