Rashed Mian

Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: rmian@longislandpress.com. Twitter: rashedmian

Obama to Send Special Forces to Syria in Unauthorized War

U.S. Army Soldiers run to Blackhawk helicopter after conducting a search for weapons caches, March 12, 2008, in Albu Issa, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Luke Thornberry)

After more than a year of combating the so-called Islamic State through the air, the Obama administration, in a swift policy change, announced Friday that US special forces will be deployed to Syria to advise moderate forces fighting the brutal militant group.

That means boots on the ground—in Syria.

Until now, the Obama administration has publicly said it opposed sending troops into Syria. In June, the White House announced 450 additional US troops would be deployed to Iraq, also in an advisory position. Like in Iraq, the several dozen US special forces being deployed are not expected to directly engage with IS, according to reports.

Almost immediately, social media users dug up comments made by President Obama with regards to Syria in which he proclaimed that he would not put troops on the ground in the war-torn country, where nearly a quarter of million people have died since the conflict began in 2011, according to reports.

Whatever their mission is, the US military escalation is startling, especially when you consider that Congress has largely abdicated its duties by failing to pass war authorization with regards to Syria. Simply put, Congress, the only branch of government with constitutional power to approve war, has not found the political will to do so—leaving the Obama administration with no choice but to use war authorization from 2001 to justify its bombing campaign and subsequent troop build. Authorization approved by Congress in 2002, known as the Iraq AUMF, is also being utilized to defend the legality of military operations.

Obama in February proposed his own AUMF that would remain in effect for three years, but Congress has yet to vote on it. In June, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif) proposed an amendment that would’ve forced an AUMF vote, but that measure failed.

“If this is worth fighting ISIS, and I believe it is, it’s worth having Congress do its job,” Schiff said in June. Two members of the House of Representatives reacted to Friday’s news by calling for Congress to act on Obama’s AUMF.

Despite authoring its own AUMF, the White House is of the belief that the 2001 AUMF passed soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks gives the executive branch wide latitude to conduct military operations in the Middle East and Africa.

The 2001 AUMF gave then President George W. Bush authorization to strike al Qaeda for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. The same AUMF has been cited to justify drone strikes, including an aerial attack in Yemen that killed a US citizen who became a radical cleric. For years, civil liberties groups have criticized the 2001 AUMF as overbroad.

Even Obama publicly discussed overhauling the 2001 war authorization.

In his remarks in May 2013 at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., Obama said he’d “engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.” And his own national security advisor, Susan Rice, wrote a letter to then Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) calling the 2002 AUMF “outdated.”

With bombing campaigns in more than one country and now with the announcement that US special forces are headed to Syria to assist moderate forces, it’s hard to argue that the US is not at war with ISIS—a war that has yet to be authorized.

Watch Billy Joel Sing the National Anthem

UPDATE: Billy Joel sang the national anthem before Friday’s pivotal Game 3 at Citi Field. The Mets won that game but ended up losing the series Sunday night in heartbreaking fashion, blowing a 2-0 lead in the ninth.

Maybe re-watching Joel’s performance will brighten up your day:


Mets fans will be in a New York state of mind in more ways than one come Friday evening.

The Amazins’, who will try to climb out of a 0-2 hole in the World Series after dropping a pair of games in Kansas City, will be serenaded by none other than Oyster Bay-native Billy Joel, who was tapped by Major League Baseball to sing the national anthem prior to Friday’s pivotal Game 3 matchup against the Royals.

The Mets haven’t played a World Series game in Queens since 2000’s Subway Series. Of course, back then, the team from Queens called Shea Stadium its home.

Mets fans are hoping the famed crooner will bring the team good luck as it tries to avoid dropping the first three games of the Fall Classic.

But leave it to the good people at Sports Illustrated to throw a damper on the Mets-Joel lovefest.

According to SI, Joel has twice sung the national anthem in Queens before a Mets World Series game, in 1986 and 2000. The Mets lost both games. While the Mets still ended up winning the World Series in ‘86, they fell to the hated Yankees in 2000.

With two strikes on the Piano Man, Mets fans can only hope Joel does his best Daniel Murphy impersonation and hits one out of the park.

So, even if you’re not a Mets fan, can’t stand the pastime, struggle to fathom why athletes are compensated with multi-million dollar salaries to catch and hit baseballs, you’ll still probably want to tune in to the World Series Friday night.

Joel has a long history with the Mets. He was the last musician to perform at Shea Stadium before it was demolished in 2008. Joel also closed down the beloved Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which is currently undergoing renovations following the New York Islanders’ move to Brooklyn.

Can New Look Knicks Put Pathetic Season Behind Them?

As the Milwaukee Bucks took a quick 11-4 lead in the first quarter of the Knicks’ season opener Wednesday, if you listened closely, you could hear tortured Knicks fans across the Big Apple letting out a collective groan. Missed shots, poor ball movement and unabated drives to the basket by the opposition were sure to be the portent of bad things to come for a long 82-game season.

That’s life as a Knicks fan—always dreading the worst, embracing mediocrity, and forever bowing in disappointment, or disgust. It’s our burden, and we begrudgingly carry it around until the day MSG can shake off the last decade of futility, both on and off the court.

In last year’s disastrous campaign the lowly Knicks managed only 17 victories—their worst record ever—but they did win more than the terrible Timberwolves, so even the smallest signs of improvement may be enough to provide fans with a tinge of hope, however fleeting it is.

Phil Jackson went ahead and gutted almost the entire roster and basically started anew, save for a few players, including star forward Carmelo Anthony. For their ineptitude on the hardwood, the Knicks were awarded the fourth overall selection, which they used to draft rail-thin 20-year-old Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia, who, we’re told, boasted a deft touch despite his lanky 7-foot-3 frame. Later in the first round Jackson took Notre Dame senior point guard Jerian Grant, an athletic ball handler. Jackson then used James Dolan’s money to sign big man Robin Lopez and a slew of other bodies just to fill out the roster for the upcoming season, or so it seemed. He famously missed out on all-star LaMarcus Aldridge and failed to convince free agent center Greg Monroe to bring his many talents to the Garden. Now Knicks fans are already dreaming of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant’s impending free agency, even though history has not been kind to the Knicks when it comes to signing MVP-caliber players on the open market.

So the franchise was left with one top 15 player in Anthony and a potpourri of role players with little star power. And the selection of Porzingis, who was booed vociferously on draft night by the Knicks faithful, did little to appease a fanbase yet to wash away the stench that wafted through the Garden last season and stunk up the joint.

Knicks fans can’t be criticized for sitting down and viewing Wednesday’s opener against the Bucks with hefty skepticism. Afterall, the franchise has done little to reciprocate the loyalty demonstrated by its steadfast supporters over the last dozen years. So when the Bucks took a quick seven-point lead in the first quarter, we collectively cringed.

Surprisingly, the team fought back. Knicks head coach Derek Fisher replaced a number of lethargic starters with spirited reserves, who were aggressive on defense and were flying to the basket. Former second overall pick Derrick Williams, who played well in the preseason, continued to impress with a team-leading 24-point outburst. The bench, led by Williams, point guard Langston Galloway, and power forward Kyle O’Quinn, who grabbed 12 rebounds, opened up a double-digit lead that the Knicks never relinquished. Imagine that!

The reserves appeared to be all over the court. They crowded passing lanes, gambled defensively to force turnovers, and swarmed to the ball.

Even Porzingis contributed with 16 points and five rebounds. Porzingis, who is blessed with a lethal stroke from the perimeter but has a frail frame, showed some guts by battling in the post and frequently attacking the rim, which is encouraging to watch. But how long his body can sustain the abuse of a grueling NBA season remains to be seen.

Not everyone enjoyed a fruitful night. Anthony missed 12 of 16 shots, perhaps due to constant double teams, and point guard Jose Calderon came up empty on a number of occasions.

But for one night, the Knicks did display encouraging signs. But let’s not forget it was only the first game in a long season, so not even success-starved Knicks fans will let Wednesday’s 122-97 victory go to their heads. Our skepticism is too entrenched for that.

A quick trip to the past would also be helpful. Last season, the Knicks opened the year by defeating LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. After that, the Knicks only captured 16 more victories.

On the surface, this doesn’t look like an NBA team destined for the basement of its division. So, maybe looking back is meaningless. This is an entirely different team. But these are still the Knicks we’re talking about, and they never fail to surprise us. Or disappoint.

Long Island Man Accused of Stabbing NJ Woman Before Jumping in Train’s Path

A 44-year-old Centereach man allegedly stabbed his ex-girlfriend to death in New Jersey Thursday and then jumped in front of a Manhattan subway train, authorities said.

Arthur Lomando, who was identified in multiple reports as an ex-NYPD officer, fatally stabbed 48-year-old Suzanne Bardzell in the driveway of her Bergen County home, authorities said. The pair had been estranged, according to reports.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said on Twitter that Lomando “threw himself in front of NYC subway” and was taken to Harlem Hospital Center, where he was treated for severe injuries to his head and legs.

The Bergen Record reported that Bardzell was already dead by the time police arrived to the scene.

Lomando confronted Bardzell shortly before 3:30 p.m. as she pulled into her driveway, The Record reported. He allegedly shattered the driver’s side window and stabbed her multiple times with “a very large machete type of knife,” Molinelli said, according to The Record.

The prosecutor was also quoted as saying that Bardzell had recently filed for an order of protection against Lomando.

Bardzell reportedly had two sons from a previous marriage, both in their teens.

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s office did not return a call for comment.

Mets Superfan Jim Breuer On Viral Recap Videos: ‘It’s My Passion’

Jim Breuer celebrates the Mets' NL pennant-clinching victory over Chicago Cubs.

The videos are often shaky, and without warning the guttural and euphoric screams emanating from our smartphone speakers approach ear-splitting levels.

But for Mets fans, the shrieks and “Woo’s” are music to their ears. It’s like the snack you know you shouldn’t devour before bed, but you do anyway. You can’t go to sleep without it, because if you do, your Mets experience isn’t complete. They are the ballads of the Mets improbable season.

For fans of the Amazins’—a nickname that perfectly suits this enthusiastic bunch of ball players—these selfie-shot “recaps” from none other than Mets superfan Jim Breuer, a Long Island native, provide the perfect punctuation to emotional victories, and even heartbreaking defeats. And Breuer is more than happy to oblige, diligently posting them to Facebook each night.

Breuer began making the brief videos after he received some encouragement from his wife. Now, he tells the Press (more specifically, staffer Jaime Franchi, aka Breuer’s bestie), it’s his “passion, my joy, my hobby.”

“Met fans are filled with passion,” he told her via text (as aforementioned, besties #poww), “loyalty & hope. This journey was like watching your child grow up & exceed all your hopes and expectations. They could of gave up on so many occasions. But they stuck together! So fun to watch them grow! Let’s Go Mets!!”

Breuer’s initial video recaps, in which he stares intently at his phone’s front-facing camera and captures the jubilance of being a Mets fan in 2015, or provides a glimpse into their tortured souls, reached tens of thousands of viewers. As the pennant race reached a fevered pitch in late August and September, Breuer’s videos were receiving upwards of a million views.

His latest, uploaded Wednesday evening following their emotional National League pennant-clinching victory over the helpless Cubs, will most likely be his most viral. And it’s Breuer at his best.

Breuer is standing inside a friend’s kitchen. Bottles of beer are scattered on the table. A handful of people are standing, eager to celebrate. It’s been 15 long years since the Mets reached the World Series. Jeurys Familia puts the nail in the Cubs’ coffin with a called third strike. Forget about the celebration on the field, we’re more interested in Breuer.

Met fan recapNL CHAMPS!!!!

Posted by Jim Breuer on Wednesday, October 21, 2015

With goggles resting on his head in preparation for a champagne bath, he whips out a piece of paper—or as he puts it, “an MLB notice.”

“Let’s see what it says,” he teases.

“To the New York Mets…it says, you are off to the World Series to represent the National League!” Breuer belts as a friend showers him in bubbly.

He proceeds to share in the Mets glory, joyously swinging his fist toward the camera and letting out primal screams.

“Guess who I just found?” he says, walking near a dark space. “I just found Duda! He’s been hiding. Come on out, join the party!!” Of course, he was referring to first basemen Lucas Duda, who has had a dreadful postseason up until Wednesday. In the first inning, Duda rocked an offering into the stands for a three-run home run. He followed that up with a two-RBI double in the second.

Breuer is classy in victory, but he can’t help himself.

“By the way,” he tells us, “Chicago is the cleanest city in the world right now cause it just got swept!”

And then to no one in particular: “Congratulation kids—the Mets. Who would’ve thought!?? Who would’ve thought?!? Let’s go Mets’ baby.”

Breuer ends the video with a sinister laugh.

The videos have been shot from a living room, inside a vehicle, in his garage, hotel rooms, and in the stands at Citi Field.

His “WE BEAT LA!!!!” recap after the Mets won the division series garnered 1.7 million views. It’s a must-see, especially if you’re still a tad upset with reviled Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley.

Some videos are heartfelt, like the one he made back on June 28 for Long Island’s Steven Matz’s debut.

Other videos aren’t recaps at all.

On Sept. 5, Breuer posted “A message to Matt Harvey” in which he criticizes the Mets ace for letting his agent speak for him. “You’re a grown man,” he tells the Dark Knight.

Despite what happens the rest of the way, Breuer’s videos will forever be part of this Mets roller coaster season. It’s a sort-of digital yearbook that Mets fans could not do without.

With the Mets headed to the Fall Classic, there will be more memorable videos to come.

“All is great in my camp right now,” Breuer says.

Here are some of our favorite Breuer Mets Recaps:

Mets recap WE BEAT LA!!!!

Posted by Jim Breuer on Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mets fan recap is backAnd let's go MATZ!!!!!

Posted by Jim Breuer on Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mets sweep !!! BEWARE rated RMom drops the " F " bomb!

Posted by Jim Breuer on Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A met fan message for MATT HARVEY

Posted by Jim Breuer on Saturday, September 5, 2015

Sag Harbor: Former Black Enclave & Home To Historic AME Church

This article is a companion piece to “Borne Out Of Racism, Defiant AME Church Preaches Social Justice Through Gospel.”

Donnamarie Barnes had such fond memories of her family’s bungalow on Lighthouse Lane in Sag Harbor that when it came time for her to settle down she decided to call the picturesque Hamptons village her home. The novelty of months-long summer escapes never wore off—and even till this day that childlike serenity swirls around her as she basks in the summertime joy that envelopes Sag Harbor.

The 55-year-old retired People magazine photo editor reminisces about summers in Sag Harbor: barbeques, rainy days at the movies, cooling down with spoonfuls of ice cream, making new friends. She was 6 months old when her parents first took the long trip from the Bronx to the East End of LI, a winding, scenic journey that took the family on the LIE and along Veterans Memorial Highway in Commack and then east through Riverhead. Once they saw the Big Duck in Flanders in the distance, the family knew their summertime oasis was close by.

“Hold your breath because we’re going by the duck farm,” was the joke in the car.

At the time, Sag Harbor was a black enclave that offered comfort the big city could not provide.

“It was family,” says Barnes. “The mothers would stay with the kids during the week; the fathers would be in the city working and would come on weekends. We would go to the beach. Every. Single. Day.” A smile forms as if Barnes is a teenager again.

In the 1800s Sag Harbor was a diverse community. Declared the first official port of entry for the United States by the Second Session of Congress in 1789, the village was a booming international whaling port—even boasting “more square-rigged vessels engaged in commerce than the port of New York,” according to the Sag Harbor Historical Society. Free blacks, Native Americans and Europeans mingled together despite disparate cultural backgrounds. It was their shared occupation that helped them coexist. Most of the men were whalers and merchants, meaning they’d be sequestered on ships for months at a time. Bonds were formed.

Those relationships were important because Sag Harbor wasn’t immune to the insidious spread of racism, which turned black Methodists into religious nomads.

In response, pious free blacks and marginalized Native Americans decided to build their own church in 1840, which was named St. David AME Zion.

Over the course of generations the congregation dwindled to the point where the AME Zion Church had to end its mission there. The church still exists but is now home to a Baptist congregation. In the 1980s the trustees of AME Zion Church signed the deed over to the Eastville Community Historical Society.

“It had this sort of aura of mystery to it,” Barnes says of St. David, which she never attended. “There was something about it that was important but I didn’t understand…there was a presence in these streets. That was comforting in a way—we were told this was a black community.”

Georgette Grier-Key of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)
Georgette Grier-Key of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

On a humid summer day in Sag Harbor, Georgette Grier-Key of the Eastville Community Historical Society is leafing through piles of news articles about St. David’s AME Zion Church. Much of it has to do with old folklore about the church being a stop on the Underground Railroad and the trapdoor that was used to hide runaway slaves.

According to an April 14, 1988 issue of The Southampton Press, a black historian named Charles L. Blockson wrote an article in that summer’s edition of the National Geographic headlined “Escape from Slavery: The Underground Railroad,” in which he touched on potential routes through LI used to transport slaves.

“Portuguese fisherman,” Blockson reported, “are said to have conspired with members of the Shinnecock tribe to transport fugitive slaves from the north shore of Long Island into ports of freedom in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.” The Southampton Press noted that some “of these runaway slaves did not go further but remained in the area, intermarrying with the Shinnecocks.”

Whether St. David was indeed a stop on the Underground Railroad, we’ll probably never know. Still, the AME Zion Church was a refuge for the small whaling community.

Grier-Key makes the short walk across to Eastville Avenue and motions at St. David. The church’s wood siding is weathered and some overgrown shrubbery obstructs the St. David AME Zion sign. The church was remodeled in 1891—a half century after its founding. Not much has changed since then, allowing the church to maintain a semblance of modest beginnings.

Like many AME churches today, St. David was a safe place for locals to have social and political gatherings.

It was the “the nucleus of the community,” Grier-Key explains. “The community is a reflection of the church and the church is a reflection of the community. These are marginalized people.

“Basically the Native Americans have been run off their land so they have no place to go so they come here,” she continues. “African Americans come here because they hear there’s some lax rules, and there’s a colony of free blacks, so they know they’re welcome here. You have a lot of free people—emancipated people—from Virginia coming because they know there is a connection, there’s a place to worship, there’s other people that look like me.”

St. David AME Zion Cemetery, opened in 1857. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)
St. David AME Zion Cemetery, opened in 1857. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

There were also those who arrived at St. David’s seeking sanctuary.

Even cemeteries were segregated, prompting St. David to open its own burial ground up the street.

“St. David AME Zion Cemetery CA 1857,” blares a historic marker along the cemetery. “Final resting place of early settlers, African Americans, Native Americans and European Ancestry.”

Rev. J.P. Thompson, St. David’s first pastor and a noted abolitionist who eventually rose to become an AME bishop, is buried there along with his wife. Thompson died in May 1862, according to his grass-stained tombstone.

St. David AME Zion Church’s congregation decreased so much over the years that it is now a Baptist church. But the historic building is still a reminder of how important it was—and still is—for disenfranchised groups to have a place of refuge. Those lessons are still being taught today.

“When most people are doing research on black history or black populations,” says Grier-Key, “they often start with the AME Zion Church.”

For more on the AME Church, click here

Borne Out Of Racism, Defiant AME Church Preaches Social Justice Through Gospel

Diane Gaines took her usual position along the pews inside Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church in Babylon.

The last few days had been a whirlwind, with Gaines taking calls from members of the community lobbying her to continue the job she had been doing for more than 15 years. Meanwhile, her own thoughts had become clouded as she nervously contemplated her future.

Gaines was in need of a sign, a gentle nudge that would help put her mind to rest. She wanted to follow her heart, but she knew the road would be turbulent and laden with pitfalls.

She wheeled herself into church that Sunday in October 2010 with her eyes wide open.

Gaines had already been through a gauntlet of obstacles. A popped blood vessel in her spine at 24 years old has relegated her for the rest of her life to a wheelchair. Then came a breast cancer diagnosis at age 40.

Gaines, a single mother of three, pushed on. Her faith never wavered. If this was His plan, then so be it. She’d accept the mission He had set forth for her.

But Gaines’ journey hit a roadblock in 2010 when the Nassau County-based Women’s Opportunity Resource Center (WORC), which she served as executive director, was shut down by its parent organization, Education and Assistance Corporation (EAC) due to a lack of funding.

For 25 years, the program helped downtrodden women who had been in and out of trouble with the criminal justice system receive vital services in order for them to effectively re-enter society, possibly earn a GED, perhaps enroll in college, and hopefully land a job, support a family. Some had been sexually and physically abused in the past. The emotional scars ran the gamut. They were drug dealers and drug abusers. Many others made a career out of petty crimes.

WORC’s mission was simple: reduce recidivism and help women climb out of a dark and lonely abyss through vocational training, educational courses, workshops, counseling, health services and emotional support.

Gaines lamented what would happen to destitute Long Island women if WORC ceased to exist. Convincing people to fund the program would be a tireless endeavor, yet something was pushing her toward reviving it.

About one month after WORC shut down, Gaines decided to stop worrying and instead put all her faith in God.

Peering at the pulpit that Sunday, Gaines recognized the youth pastor preaching that morning as the son of a WORC graduate. What some would consider a coincidence, Gaines interpreted as divine intervention.

“I can’t run from this,” she recalled.

The next day Gaines got to work. After registering WORC with the Nassau County Clerk’s office, she headed over to Fulton Avenue in Hempstead to inspect an unoccupied office space. The landlord inquired about her budget. She didn’t have one, Gaines admitted.

“I have God,” she told him.


Diane Gaines, executive director of WORC, helps women who have been incarcerated get back on their feet. Gaines visited the African American Museum of Nassau County on Aug. 27 to accept a $55,000 grant from the Nassau County District Attorney's Office. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)
Diane Gaines, executive director of WORC, helps women who have been incarcerated get back on their feet. Gaines visited the African American Museum of Nassau County on Aug. 27 to accept a $55,000 grant from the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Gaines, who had been raised Catholic, discovered the African Methodist Episcopal church two decades ago. She made the switch after a professional mentor suggested she attend a service at Mt. Olive AME church in Port Washington—and she’s been hooked ever since.

The AME church has been in existence for more than two centuries, quietly going about its business spreading the Gospel worldwide and helping improve the communities its members call home. The first AME church was founded by a free slave in Philadelphia shortly after the official end of the American Revolution. The church’s congregation now numbers three million people—spanning 39 countries on five continents.

Suddenly the church’s bucolic lifestyle was interrupted on June 20 when bullets violently began flying inside Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., the oldest AME church in the South, during Bible study. When the alleged gunman finally ended the carnage, nine lives had been lost, with the church’s venerable pastor among the dead.

Dylann Storm Roof’s motives were made clear by his venomous justification for the rampage.

“You are raping our women and taking over the country,” Roof reportedly told one of his victims inside the historic church during the slayings. On Sept. 3, prosecutors in Charleston announced they’d be seeking the death penalty.

A supposed manifesto reportedly posted on a website registered by Roof last February paints a disturbing portrait of a man painfully uncomfortable living in an America where the KKK has largely become irrelevant and hate-fueled attacks by other disciples are, in his view, too infrequent.

“I have no choice,” it reads, according to The New York Times. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites (sic) in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Fueled by racism, Roof allegedly slaughtered nine God-loving people after an hour of Bible study—a common event held every Wednesday at each AME church in the country.

AME members of Long Island were just leaving Bible studies of their own when news of the bloodshed began to surface.

“I felt violated,” 64-year-old Anita Scott says inside Bethel AME Church in Freeport. Scott was raised in the AME and has family in South Carolina.

“This is my home,” she says on a quiet summer day inside Bethel. “I felt like someone had come in there and raped us…I just wonder: How can someone raise their child to hate?”

The mass murder sent a shockwave across LI, which is home to 14 AME churches—seven each in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Bethel Copiague, where congregants will celebrate its 200th anniversary this month. LI is also home to St. David AME Zion church in Sag Harbor, a defunct AME church built in 1840 that is rumored to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad and housed a trapdoor that once hide slaves. Its pastor at the time was also a noted abolitionist, according to historians.

The AME church has always been a symbol of black resistance, says Rev. Craig Robinson, pastor of AME Bethel Church in Bay Shore. Therefore, it’s not out of the question that one of its churches would be used to hide blacks from their slave masters. (The existence of the Underground Railroad on LI has been the subject of much debate.)

The murderous rampage on a summer evening in Charleston evoked visceral reactions and brought back memories of the church’s birth in the late 1780s (the exact date is unknown), when white Methodists insisted that blacks move to the back of St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia. But it was Richard Allen’s act of defiance at the end of the 18th century that laid the groundwork for the eventual formation of the AME church. Allen, a revered black preacher and member of St. George’s, decided to lead a walkout, a pivotal moment in the history of black resistance.

Richard Allen founded the first AME Church in Philadelphia after he was told he could no longer worship at St. George's Methodist Church. He is also considered one of America's first black activists.
Richard Allen founded the first AME Church in Philadelphia after he was told he could no longer worship at St. George’s Methodist Church. He is also considered one of America’s first black activists.

Ever since Richard Allen preached his religious views to a new congregation, the AME has been at the forefront in the fight for equality. Allen, a former Pennsylvania slave, had already earned his freedom. He had become a roving Methodist preacher, touring southern states, creating a burgeoning following, and inspiring destitute slaves and free blacks alike.

Regarded as one of the country’s first black activists, Allen refused to live a compliant life. He saw the church—an independent black church, more accurately—as a place of refuge and a spiritual haven, where blacks could pray freely and speak openly, without resentful stares from white Methodists.

“The existence of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is a glaring example of black resistance to racism, to oppression,” says Robinson.

The mass murder of the “Emanuel 9” at the hands of a man allegedly motivated by his hatred toward blacks spawned yet another national conversation about America’s deep-seated racism. During his eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the Mother Emanuel pastor and South Carolina state senator killed in the rampage, President Obama referenced the Confederate flag, revered by many in the South as a symbol of their heritage.

“Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers,” Obama told a packed audience in Charleston on June 26, six days after the shooting. “It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong, the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people, was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”

The shooting did more than just cause blood to spill, tears to cascade for days, and stir emotional debates on race, guns, and, most passionately, the Confederate flag. The tragedy also served as a reminder of the AME church’s vital role as a champion of black rights and as a leader in the community.

AME congregations nationwide form a tight-knit community made up of deeply devout parishioners who make it their mission to use the church to improve the lives of people in their respective neighborhoods. For decades, generations of AME members have seen racism firsthand. Mother Emanuel itself had to be rebuilt after it was burned to the ground in the 1830s amid controversy over a foiled slave revolt instigated by Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s co-founders.

“At the heart of Allen’s moral vision was an evangelical religion—Methodism—that promised equality to all believers in Christ,” writes Richard M. Newman in Freedom’s Prophet, recognized by some as the definitive biography on Allen’s life. “Indeed, one of Allen’s best claims to equal founding status was his attempt to merge faith and racial politics in the young republic.”

Visit an AME church on any Sunday and you’ll typically find a motivated congregation that utilizes Scripture and sermons as tools to better their neighborhoods. Many AME churches operate food pantries, youth groups, a women’s missionary society, health programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, and a bevy of other vital social programs. Those with larger congregations may offer more expansive services; sometimes they collaborate.

“We’re not insulated; we’re not boxed in,” says Rev. Stephen Lewis, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Freeport. “We’re bold enough to go outside and invite people.”

The AME church is constantly looking outward, says Margaret Davis, first lady of Bethel AME church in Babylon.

The AME church is “like the fueling station where you get the gasoline that you need,” says Davis. “Get pumped and go on out there and make the cycles and change lives.”

Voice of the Voiceless

Mt. Olive AME Church Port Washington
Rev. Lisa Williamson, the pastor of Mt. Olive AME Church in Port Washington, with parishioner Edith Hall holding a framed photo of the nine people killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina in June. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

The pastors who lead congregations on Long Island have traveled very different paths to get where they are now, but they all share common goals.

Rev. Lewis, the pastor at Bethel AME Church in Freeport, arrived from northern Pennsylvania. Rev. Keith Hayward, originally from Bermuda, has been the pastor of Bethel AME in Copiague for the last three years. Prior to his arrival, he also pastored a church in Pennsylvania. Rev. Dr. Lisa Williamson of Mt. Olive AME in Port Washington previously served at Trinity AME in Smithtown. Born in Venezuela, she’s grown fond of her small church on a quiet, idyllic tree-lined street in Port Washington.

Rev. Craig Robinson, 29, arrived in Bay Shore last year. The sprawling South Shore hamlet feels very much like his hometown of Ferguson, Mo., Robinson says, adjusting his tall, burly frame as he relaxes in the front pew inside Bethel AME Church in Bay Shore.

The unassuming church sits adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road tracks and is less than a block from bustling 2nd Avenue. With its vaulted ceilings and ubiquitous stained glass windows, the unpretentious 150-year-old AME house of worship evokes its humble beginnings. The ground beneath it trembles as trains shriek east and west, an omnipresent rat-a-tat often adds to the soundtrack of Robinson’s Sunday sermons.

After entering the church and getting a sense of his surrounding, Robinson called his mom back home in Ferguson and reported the eerie similarities between Bay Shore and his hometown: large groups of people struggling to get by, dilapidated cookie-cutter houses dotting the neighborhood, families scrounging for food. But like Ferguson, Bay Shore has its wealthy parts, mostly waterfront properties boasting dazzling views of the Great South Bay.

Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, was the site of intense protests following the police shooting death of Michael Brown in August 2014. Robinson eventually moved to St. Louis, where he attended St. James AME Church. He was only 17 when he first began preaching.

In June 2014, an AME bishop appointed Robinson as the pastor of Bethel AME Church in Bay Shore. In order to be ordained, a prospective AME pastor is required to earn a master’s degree in divinity. Pastors are then appointed by bishops for one-year terms and are either reinstated or reassigned to a different AME church, perhaps in another state. Pastors never know if they’ll lead a church for more than a year.

As with anyone coming into a new neighborhood, the pastors try to ascertain the makeup of the community and the issues people face. Robinson realized quickly that the church’s food pantry helped shine a light on families stricken by poverty.

Mt. Olive AME Church in Port Washington
A black ribbon hangs outside Mt. Olive AME Church in Port Washington in remembrance of the nine people slain during Bible study in South Carolina.

The issues facing other communities are not much different.

When Williamson arrived in Port Washington she realized there was an affordable housing problem. The pulpit provides Williamson with a powerful megaphone that allows her voice to be heard, but it’s her ability to go outside the church and speak with community leaders and public officials that helps bring issues out of the darkness and into the sunlight.

“Every good preacher should have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other hand,” Williamson says.

When a member of the Port Washington Police Department unfurled a Confederate flag outside his house on the Fourth of July holiday, Williamson invited members of the community and the police commissioner to the church for a frank discussion on the flag’s presence in their neighborhood, which attracted a small but passionate group.

“A lot of the people went to school with him,” Mt. Olive AME member Edith Hall tells the Press. “They felt really hurt because they knew this officer.”

“I don’t think they fully understand what that flag represents and that’s something we did at that meeting,” adds Williamson. “One young woman gave the history [of the Confederate flag], and through the history she explained why when we see it, all these emotions come up. If I see a Confederate flag my impression is you do not care for me as an African American.”

Among her duties, Williamson says, is establishing a working relationship with the Port Washington Police Department, which is headquartered less than a mile south of Mt. Olive.

“As a pastor, we know you have to establish a relationship with law enforcement, unfortunately because of the history,” Williamson tells the Press.

“Social justice, community activism,” she adds, “that’s what we were borne out of. And with the climate in the country now, we’re even getting ready to do it on a much larger scale.”

Long Island has a long history of racial tension. One of the largest KKK rallies outside the South took place in Nassau in 1922, according to The New York Times. Two years later, some 30,000 spectators watched 2,000 robed Klansmen parade through Freeport. Those unresolved issues linger on today.

A report published by the Syosset-based nonprofit ERASE Racism in January found that LI remains one of the most segregated regions in the country, with “segregation between blacks and whites remaining extremely high and segregation between Latinos, Asians and whites increasing.” The same report also noted that only 3 percent of black students and 5 percent of Latino students have access to the highest performing schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties, compared to 28 percent of whites and 30 percent of Asian students.

There’s also the ongoing issue of affordable housing. Last year, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Town of Oyster Bay, alleging that it violated the Fair Housing Act by giving preference to residents of the town, which is majority white. That same summer a Mineola landlord agreed to a $165,000 settlement in a case in which he was accused of discriminating against blacks. Two nonprofits, including ERASE Racism, sent both black and white “testers” to the complex and had them inquire about vacancies. The black tester was told there were no rooms available, yet four hours later the white tester was shown an available one-bedroom apartment.

AME pastors relish the opportunity to be more than just religious leaders confined within the walls of their church.

“I came with this mindset: I was not sent to just pastor Bethel church, I was sent to pastor this community,” says Hayward, who was assigned to Bethel AME in Copiague in January 2012.

Pastors like Hayward say they’re following the path forged by Allen more than two centuries ago.

“If there’s legislation in this community that is not for the holistic healing and development of people, you will hear my voice,” Hayward says recently from across a large brown desk inside his spacious office at Bethel AME in Copiague. “If the school district is not providing our children the holistic education and the procedures and protocols are not correct, they will hear my voice.”

‘To Strengthen Those Things That Remain’

Bethel AME Church Copiague
Rev. Keith Hayward outside historic Bethel AME Church in Copiague. The church will be celebrating its 200th anniversary this month. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Celebrating its 200th anniversary this month, Hayward’s church does everything from holding toy giveaways and fundraisers to hosting Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings on Wednesdays, running a weekly GED program in partnership with SUNY Farmingdale, and a two-hour seminar about diabetes every Tuesday for six weeks in the fall. And that’s not all.

Hayward is especially proud of the “Fatherhood Initiative,” which he instituted upon his arrival in Copiague. The six-week program reconnects troubled fathers with their children following a protracted separation, perhaps due to incarceration or a frayed relationship, whatever the reason. The results have been “phenomenal,” so far, Hayward says with pride.

“Some of the men have been back here on a Sunday morning and have had their children with them,” he says. “Even the mothers of the children are more appreciative of the fact that the fathers are more engaged in their children’s lives.”

Hayward always keeps his ear to the ground. The pastor recently learned of an illiterate 9-year-old boy.

“That was grievous to me,” he says, struggling to hide his displeasure. Hayward immediately set a goal to have the child reading before classes resumed this fall.

The child had slipped through the cracks because of troubles at home, but the church stepped in to fill the void that the school district had been unable to.

“He’s not at the point where we can’t reach him,” Hayward says.

Hayward could very well be the unofficial mayor of Copiague, and Bethel AME its city hall. His influence is everywhere: the county legislature, judicial system, police, school districts, neighboring businesses (Toys ‘R’ US donates to the church). Bethel AME now has 325 congregants, up from about 100 before Hayward was appointed pastor. Bible study attracts on average 110 people each week.

Hayward’s church was initially founded in Amityville in the 19th century but has since moved to neighboring Copiague. The church still owns its original property on Albany Avenue as well as an adjacent cemetery, where the last burial took place in 1897, he says. These days the parcel where the original church once sat is vacant but the community takes advantage of the open space for recreational activities.

There’s a piece of Scripture in the Book of Revelations that Hayward lives by: “To strengthen those things that remain.” In Hayward’s case, it’d be the community that he’s hoping to uplift.

“I base my ministry on that one Scripture,” he says.

It’s social outreach projects like these that are happening all the time at AME churches across the Island.

At Bethel AME in Freeport, Lewis speaks proudly of “Joshua Generation,” a program designed to reach young people in the community. More than 50 youngsters visit the church on Friday nights, he says, “because, really, they have nowhere else to go.”

Instead of roaming the neighborhood, they take part in physical and educational activities, participate in Bible study, and, if someone in the community has been generous with donations, travel to sporting events in the area.

“We keep them involved,” Lewis says.

AME’s faithful take pride in the work they do outside the church.

Diane Gaines was able to re-establish WORC in 2010, using her savings to pay for rent in Hempstead and reaching out to members of the church and public officials for support. She was able to secure thousands of dollars in funding from the AME church through a Women’s Missionary Society program dubbed “Project Possible.”

Several years ago, then-Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice provided WORC, which was renamed The Woman’s Opportunity Rehabilitation Center, with a $20,000 grant from the office’s asset forfeiture fund—money seized during investigations. That number jumped to $50,000 last year, Gaines says in her fourth floor office along Franklin Avenue in Hempstead.

Gaines is sitting in her wheelchair, her phone constantly ringing and the sound of students and volunteers scurrying in and out. It’s a busy Thursday morning in late August at WORC. The small group of volunteers is hastily preparing for an event at the African American Museum of Nassau County, the only such museum in the Northeast, where acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas will be on hand to award WORC a $55,000 grant.

Gaines wheels her way through the museum across the street and gazes at the crowd. The room is lined with enlarged U.S. Postal Service stamps of prominent blacks. There’s one of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Ella Fitzgerald and Rosa Parks. Judging by the celebrity-like reaction she inspires from friends and admirers, Gaines could one day bless that very same wall.

“Anyone who meets Diane can’t help but be impressed by just her enthusiasm and her advocacy and her passion and commitment to women,” Singas tells the crowd of about 30 people. “It’s contagious.”

The DA’s office is in the unique position of trying to help the very people it’s supposed to prosecute—that is, coordinating with the criminal justice system to provide alternatives to incarceration to women charged with low-level offenses.

“We think of our office as a place where we can be sort of proactive,” Singas tells the Press. “We put a lot of our money into crime prevention, so a lot of these programs with women and younger offenders and young children—they have to pay their debt to society but at the same time they don’t have to wear this as a stigma for the rest of their lives.”

Aside from helping women who previously have been incarcerated, WORC often takes in women—with the help of the DA’s office and Nassau County judges—as an alternative to incarceration.

“I’ve seen lives changed,” Joyce Lewis, an AME member and WORC volunteer, tells the Press.

Students who previously looked lost now “have a shimmer of hope,” she says, adding: “Selfishly I would like to see fast growth, but I’ve seen seeds planted, I’ve seen hope, and I’ve seen the chance for a change.”

“I know this is the work that God called me to do,” Lewis beams.

Much of the credit goes to Gaines, WORC volunteers and former students say.

“My life has changed dramatically because of the WORC program,” says Victoria Roberts, who graduated WORC after a 13-year battle with drugs and now works as Nassau County’s Reentry Coordinator, which helps individuals get back on their feet after state incarceration.

At one point, Roberts was homeless, out of work, and lost her two kids to foster care. She’s fought tirelessly since. She turned her life around, got her children back, has a home.

“I owe it all to Ms. Gaines,” she says of her success. “She [has] three daughters but she has a multitude of daughters. There are many women who can stand up here and tell stories similar to mine and we owe it all to Ms. Gaines.”

When Wendy Priester first met Gaines she was a mess, battling anger issues. After one day at WORC she told Gaines not to expect her back. She ended up returning the next day.

Gaines helped her find a part-time job, she tells the audience, tears streaming down her cheeks. Finally, everything started falling into place.

“I’m about to buy my first house,” she says, the room erupting in applause.

With tears surging and her voice cracking, Priester turns toward Gaines and leans in for a hug.

About a dozen AME members are in attendance, many of whom are WORC volunteers.

Gaines asks them to stand up to be recognized for their work.

She then asks a man named Johnny to sing one of her favorite songs. He doesn’t hesitate.

“I won’t complain,” he sings, as his voice begins to soar. “Sometimes the clouds hang low. I’ve asked the Lord why so much pain. He knows what’s best for me. These weary eyes, they can’t see, so I’ll say, Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord! I won’t complain.”

It’s easy to understand why Gaines chose that song.

“She’s such an inspiration,” says Jacqueline Watkins, 72, of Amityville, another AME member. “I’ve never heard her complain. Always positive. I lost my husband just about three years ago; she was always encouraging to me.”

Gaines, who is affectionately known as “Ms. Gaines,” credits her faith and the AME church.

“I just believed that this was a mission from God,” she says, back inside WORC’s Hempstead office. “That God wanted me to do this.”

“I would not have re-established the WORC program without my faith,” Gaines says, reflecting on that life-changing Sunday at Bethel AME in Babylon.

“It’s my faith that keeps me going now.”

It’s that faith AME members turned to on the night of June 20.

Faith and Politics

Bethel AME Church Bay Shore
Rev. Craig Robinson considers slavery America’s original “birth defect.” Robinson, the pastor of Bethel AME Church in Bay Shore, grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, the cite of often intense protests following the police shooting death of Michael Brown. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

The Sunday following the Charleston slayings, Rev. Robinson stood at the pulpit with a heavy heart and raised a litany of questions swirling through the minds of millions of members worldwide:

“Why did it happen?”

“Why that church?”

“Why such violence?”

“Why such hate?”


To find the answers, Robinson says that all one has to do is peer into America’s past.

“For what we have witnessed in the massacre at Mother Emanuel is in my estimation history’s chickens coming home to roost,” he told his congregants.

“We have seen this before in the treatment of slaves on Southern plantations,” he added. “We have seen this before in the bodies that were lynched and mutilated and burned from America’s inception up into the early parts of the 20th century. We have seen this before in the removal of Africans from their motherland, in the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral land, by force if necessary… We have seen all of this before.”

Robinson was conducting Bible study the evening bullets rang out inside Mother Emanuel.

One glance at his phone afterward prompted a whirlwind of emotions: first confusion and disbelief followed by extreme anguish.

As he absorbed all that had transpired that evening, Robinson couldn’t help but recognize the feeling that was sinking in.

“I think I felt the same way about this that I did with Trayvon Martin,” Robinson says. “I think it’s just the pervasive presence of violence against the black community, black bodies, black institutions.”

“And so you both have a deep emotional connection with all of it,” he adds. “Whether it’s Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner or any of those people, you feel a sort of personal connection. But then you also have a somewhat sort of numbness to it because you’re very clear of the history that much of this violence is rooted in. And so…you’re sort of lamenting, you’re sort of calling God into question publicly as well as praying for hope.”

The self-effacing pastor portrays a calm demeanor amid heightened tension in black communities. Robinson has preached about the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Akai Gurley, as well as the tragic slayings of two NYPD officers fatally shot in an ambush last December, which further inflamed the political discourse. His sermons are a collection of current events woven within Holy Scripture reflecting God’s will.

“The shooter had much to draw on as material for how he would dispense his brand of hatred,” he tells his congregation. “And if we are going to move forward from this together, people of all walks life, all ethnicities and races must come and talk truthfully about these issues and facts. The fact that America, in all its ideals, has an underside, and that place has been where the oppressed, including many in the black community, have found themselves for centuries.

“There are tons of raw material for our shooter to draw on,” he continues. “But there are some deeper issues than just our history. The other question that comes up in my mind is: What happened to his heart? What happened to make this man so callous in the execution of his mission? What happened that made him forsake the voice of reason and good, the voice that told him not to shoot because these people were so nice to him? What happened to his heart, his compassion, his basic humanity?”

Robinson has a lot to say, even when the pews are empty.

“Like in most of these places, whether it’s Charleston or Bay Shore or Ferguson, the issues far predate anybody that has the wherewithal to try to change it,” Robinson tells the Press. “When you’re talking about a Confederate flag, even though the Confederate flag has a bunch more recent history, you know, you’re talking about a history of racism and slavery and the dehumanization of an entire group of people that spans 300 years. You can’t just undo 300 years of history.”

Rev. Hayward agrees.

The pastor was traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike when news reports of the horrific slayings came through his radio. Two hours earlier, Hayward was also teaching Bible study.

“That hit me in a way that I’ve never felt,” Hayward says of the bloodshed.

He talks about a persistent “racial divide” in the country, how when Africans were taken from their homelands they were transformed into slaves. He recalls the time Richard Allen was told, “You’re no longer allowed to pray at this altar.”

Still, he keeps his faith.

“So, when this young man set out to do evil, God has turned it around for good,” says Hayward. “He has brought people together in South Carolina that had not embraced each other before.”

Hayward may take his cues from God, but he finds inspiration in how people have reacted since the shooting.

The number of people who attended Bible study at Mother Emanuel skyrocketed to 250 in the weeks after the attack, he explains.

“Love wins,” he says.

People who never had shown interest in the AME church have now become members, Hayward says.

“Love wins,” he repeats.

“The church was born out of racism, Mother Emanuel the struggle and challenges they’ve been through was out of injustice and racism,” Hayward adds. “Bethel Church in Copiague dwells in a community that has racial divide and hate. I’ve met some phenomenal Caucasian men and women on this Island that have become good friends—there’s another side to this. Love wins.

“When we show love, we produce love,” he continues. “I think that what we need to do is look at the value of individuals. What if God treated us the way we treated ourselves? But because he doesn’t, love wins—every time.”

Similarly, Rev. Williamson of Mt. Olive in Port Washington went to church on the Sunday following the massacre planning to deliver a message of hope. Peruse the Bible and you’ll find something in the text that helps you find a way to overcome tragedies, she says.

Williamson is not surprised that a half-century since the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act were signed into law that blatant racism still exists.

The AME church was born out of racism, she says, echoing Hayward, therefore it knows how to respond to hate. And it will continue do so, whether it’s inside the hallowed walls of its churches or at community forums and at demonstrations.

“What we’re doing now,” she tells the Press, “is we’re responding in a much more organized and political way: to say after the cameras are gone and it’s no longer a headline story, we’re still going to hold this nation accountable to 42 million of its citizens.”

Islamic Center of Long Island to Unveil Interfaith Institute

Islamic Center of Long Island
Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. (Photo credit: Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

When the doors to the Islamic Center of Long Island opened for the first time two decades ago, there were only three people inside the basement praying toward Mecca and welcoming the solitude it offered.

The unimpressive turnout prompted Dr. Faroque Khan, a co-founder of the mosque, to ask himself, “What are we doing here?” Little did he know what would become of the then-three bedroom house sitting atop a sizable plot on bustling Brush Hollow Road, which was purchased for $149,000 in 1984.

Now hundreds attend Friday prayers, and as word of the mosque continues to spread, more and more worshippers decide to make the spiritual journey to Westbury. The ICLI underwent its first expansion in the early 1990s, which cost about $2 million. A second renovation is nearing its end, and the price tag has ballooned to $4 million.

These are good times for the Islamic Center of Long Island, a vibrant, respected religious space that has earnestly focused on community outreach. The ICLI also showed itself to be a progressive religious center when in January it appointed Dr. Isma Chaudhry as its president, making her the first female president of the mosque in its history.

If members of the community are looking for a moderate voice of Islam, they need look no further than the ICLI. But in the minds of the mosque’s leaders, much work remains.

This weekend, the ICLI will yet again embrace its community-first attitude when it launches the Interfaith Institute of Islamic Center of Long Island, which will endeavor to educate the community about all faiths, not just Islam. Its goal is to foster a better understanding of the dozen different faiths being practiced on this Island. The institute includes an impressive board of trustees made up of men and women from different backgrounds and faiths, including representation from the Diocese of Rockville Centre and leaders in higher education. The interfaith institute is perhaps the only such organization in the region, if not the country, operated under the auspices of an Islamic Center, says Khan.

“I need to understand better the tenets of other faiths,” he says. “Similarly the other faiths need to understand and learn about who we are, particularly in the present environment where the loudest voices are the most crazy voices. We need to bring that voice of reason, sanity into the conversation.”

One of the institute’s main goals is to reach out to educators and their students—in local school districts and universities—to better educate them on Islam, a religion that most people learn about through uninformed talking heads on television and cable news. The religion, local leaders say, has been hijacked by extremists to justify bloodletting and territorial acquisitions. Such high-profile slaughters perpetrated by terror groups often prompt condemnation by the ICLI, but their voice isn’t always heard because mainstream media fail to report the institute’s denunciations, says Khan, the former chair of medicine at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.

The group already has plans to work with school districts in Westbury, Hicksville, Herricks and Jericho to promote interfaith initiatives through conferences, seminars, essay contests and student visits, he says.

Sitting inside the Jericho home he and his wife purchased in 1971, Khan recalls how Islam was thrust into the public conscience on Sept. 11, 2001—a horrible introduction.

He’s not surprised that 14 years after the terror attacks that many Americans don’t have a better understanding of his religion. It takes time, he says. He’s patient. And despite increased Islamophobia in the media and public spaces, he has unbridled confidence that Muslims will one day no longer be looked upon as the “others.”

“It’s been a slow, evolutionary process,” Khan tells the Press.

With the introduction of its interfaith institute, the ICLI is essentially coming full circle. The idea of the mosque began when Khan and other newcomers to LI realized that not only did their children’s schools lack the basic understanding of Islam, but so did their children, who were minorities in their respective classrooms.

That became clear three decades ago when Khan’s then-10-year-old daughter asked: “Dad, why can’t I have a Christmas tree?”

The Khans and about 10 other families, made up of mostly physicians, got together and began contemplating how a suburban mosque would serve a burgeoning Muslim community. In the meantime, meetings were held in a nursery school in Hempstead. The Quaker Foundation-operated Advent Church in Westbury provided a comfortable place for children to learn from other parents about the teachings of Islam. Eventually the ICLI’s founders discovered the property on Brush Hollow Road, but they instantly hit a roadblock.

The families were operating on a shoestring budget—with about $14,000 in the bank. The high-price tag notwithstanding, the families pooled their resources together and raised enough money to purchase the property. Its growth has been dramatic. Its latest remodel has been a massive undertaking. The installation of Chaudhry as president was a watershed moment. It’s evolution continues.


On Sunday, religious leaders and interfaith activists will gather at the Islamic Center of Long Island for the official launch of the Interfaith Institute. They’ll discuss plans to interact with schools and to lobby local universities to develop a formal course on interfaith dialogue.

The backdrop will be a massively expanding mosque. Construction crews first broke ground in August 2013. The renovated mosque will include more classrooms to support the growing number of Muslim families moving into the Long Island community, as well as a recreation area and interfaith center.

The Interfaith Institute has already received letters of support from such elected officials as Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and New York State Comptroller Tom D’Napoli.

Prominent religious leaders are also throwing their support behind the Interfaith Institute.

“Since my arrival on Long Island in 2001, I have been inspired by the willingness of the Muslim community, among others, to work together,” Bishop William Murphy wrote in a letter to Chaudhry, which has been included in a 35-page handbook detailing the institute’s goals and wishes. “This institute is certainly the fruit of those sentiments, and I applaud its inception and wish its Board of Trustees every success.”

Among the members of the board is Rev. Tom Goodhue, executive director of Long Island Council of Churches. He’s been involved in inter-religious activities with the ICLI for more than a decade.

“They’ve always been great at a sort of dialogue at a kind of a street level,” he tells the Press.

“It’s great the Muslims are tackling this,” Goodhue adds, “because they still face a lot of misunderstanding and suspicion, and they need to do things somewhat differently to come up with a way to interact with other faith communities.”

Goodhue hopes the institute will “further inter-religious dialogue and understanding” on Long Island.

Chaudhry, the ICLI’s new president, has been at the forefront of interfaith efforts. Her relationship with the ICLI began as a volunteer. Like Khan, the realization that education is necessary to foster understanding came when she realized her children were among only six Muslims kids enrolled in the private school. She created a curriculum and proceeded to educate the school’s staff on Muslim traditions and culture. Soon, other schools inquired about her services.

While combating Islamophobia and anti-semitism is one of her stated goals for the institute, Chaudhry hopes to simply unite communities and “build a healthy society.”

“People are afraid of what Islam is,” she adds.

The ICLI has a long history of coordinating initiatives with other faiths.

More than 20 year ago, it partnered with Catholics to produce 20 half-hour segments on Telecare called “Our Muslim Neighbors.”

In 2001, the ICLI and Temple Beth El in Great Neck collaborated on an event dubbed “American Muslims and Jews in Dialogue,” which the ICLI credits with spurring illuminating conversations about the two prominent religions.

And more than once the mosque has worked alongside the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove to promote interfaith harmony. One such event at HMTC highlighted the bravery of Muslims in Albania during World War II.

Albania, according to Steven Markowitz, chairman of HMTC, was allied with Germany during the war [following its invasion and occupation by Italy and Germany, respectively], but became the only European country to boast that it had more Jews after the war than it had prior to the conflict.

The Albanian people “protected their Jews and welcomed Jews from other countries,” says Markowitz. “These people were all Muslims who did this.”

Markowitz is not on the board of the Interfaith Institute but he wrote a letter of support.

HMTC promotes people they call “upstanders”—the brave souls who stood up for the marginalized, especially during the Holocaust. Inside HMTC is a photo of a young Muslim man rescuing Jewish boys at a subway in New York City.

“If there was ever a more perfect example of how people can stand up for each other and truly be ‘upstanders,’ that was it,” he says.

On Sunday, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, intellectuals, educators and a bevy of other supporters will stand united as they launch the ICLI’s latest—and perhaps most ambitious—project yet.

Their announcement comes amid continued turmoil in the Middle East. The so-called Islamic State continues to wreak havoc in Syria and Iraq; Libya is essentially a fallen state; Egypt’s fledgling democracy continues to crumble; proxy wars between US and Russia and Iran and Saudi Arabia are pushing the region into further chaos; and the Syrian refugee crisis has only underscored how the West is unfit, or simply unwilling, to welcome people fleeing war zones.

But despite the turmoil there’s hope here.

Just last month, Pope Francis stood at Ground Zero and held an interfaith prayer with dozens of religious leaders. Khan was in attendance. He left impressed.

Francis’ message of “love your neighbor,” says Khan, is one the ICLI and other faiths on LI have preached for years.

Yet pleas for solidarity are often muffled by the bloodshed, making it difficult for voices like Khan’s to reach the mainstream.

“Violence,” Khan laments, “gets more attention than peace-building and outreach.”

He says the tide is changing. Leafing through “Story of a Mosque in America,” a book he wrote and published in 1991, Khan recalls a time not tool long ago when Jews were marginalized in America. He finds hope in how they eventually found acceptance and prominence in society.

Khan understands that the fight for prosperity will perhaps never end, but future generations will be better off if organizations like the Interfaith Institute succeed in its mission.

“The hope is that these young people, down the road, will understand the community better and will be better neighbors,” Khan says. “I want to make it a better place for my children and grandkids, simple as that.”

Uniondale Man Charged in 17-month-old’s Death

A 26-year-old Uniondale man described as a soulless “monster” was charged in the murder of his girlfriend’s 17-month-old child over Columbus Day weekend, Nassau County authorities said.

Lord Pardo was ordered held on $20 million bond or $10 million cash at his arraignment Tuesday at First District Court in Hempstead. He was charged with second-degree murder for the child’s death on Sunday.

“It’s clear that the defendant has no soul,” acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said Tuesday during a press conference at police headquarters in Mineola. “He’s truly a monster.”

Pardo, who emigrated from Haiti in 2009 and has no prior arrest record, is not the father of the child, but he was watching the tot because the mother was working at Whole Foods in Jericho.

The tragic incident occurred during the afternoon as Pardo cared for the boy, Mason Robinson, and his own three-week-old daughter, authorities said. He’s cared for the child between six to eight times in the past four months, officials said.

At 1:40 p.m., Pardo notified Robinson’s mother via text message that the child had “difficulty breathing,” officials said. That’s when the woman asked Pardo to bring the child to Whole Foods, which he did, according to his defense attorney Meir Moza. The child was then taken to North Shore LIJ Hospital in Syosset, where he was pronounced dead at 2:57 p.m., police said.

During Pardo’s arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Jessica Cepriano said Robinson sustained a fractured rib, collapsed lung, lacerated liver, lacerated diaphragm, fractured skull, and massive internal injuries.

“This was no accident,” acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said. “This baby was severely beaten and those injuries caused his death.

“Nothing is more despicable than the murder of a child,” added Singas.

Pardo’s defense attorney said the evidence does not point to his client willfully injuring the child.

Moza said the second-degree murder charge is an example of the district attorney’s office “overreaching,” adding that the facts would prove that.

Pardo has no reason to harm the child, the attorney said.

“For me to believe that someone is just going to harm a baby out of nowhere, it just seems farfetched,” Moza told the Press.

The attorney suggested that the injuries could’ve been caused by “negligence supervision,” but his client never intended to physically assault the child.

“I don’t think that the evidence will be sustainable,” Moza said.

When told of Moza’s remarks during Pardo’s arraignment, Krumpter said the “charges are consistent with the injuries the baby suffered.”

The injuries, he said, are “inconsistent with an accident.”

Authorities said Nassau County Child Protective Services has never investigated a case involving Pardo.

Lake Grove Woman’s Husband Charged in Slaying, Cops Say

A 49-year-old former NYPD officer from Lake Grove was arrested Tuesday more than a 100 miles away in upstate Pawling for the alleged murder of his 42-year-old wife, Suffolk County police said.

Paul Leitgeb was apprehended following a lengthy standoff with New York State police, authorities said. Suffolk police had learned that Leitgeb was on a hiking trail in Dutchess County and notified state police. After an extensive search, he was found in a densely wooded area in the Appalachian Trail late Tuesday afternoon, police said.

Authorities said Leitgeb was armed with a box cutter and threatened to injure himself further after apparently cutting his wrist and throat. After a prolonged standoff, he was taken into custody, police said. He was transported to Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie for treatment.

Suffolk police homicide detectives charged Leitgeb with second-degree murder. His arraignment has been delayed, pending release from the hospital. Leitgeb, according to multiple reports, is a retired NYPD Transit Officer.

Leitgeb’s wife, 42-year-old Tricia Odierna, was found dead inside her Lake Grove home on Oct. 1, police said. Investigators have yet to reveal what caused her death.

A family friend who launched a GoFundMe account to raise money for the slain mom’s twins and a stepdaughter described Odierna as “one of the most beautiful souls I ever had the honor of knowing.”

“She was my best friend, confidant, sister I never had,” the friend wrote on her GoFundMe page, which has already received more than $20,000 in donations. “She had a heart of gold and to know her was to love her.”