By Gemma Schneider
How well do you really know your neighbors? All 29,278 of them. Probably not that well.
The Village of Roslyn is bigger than we realize, filled with residents of diverse backgrounds, interests and stories. Lost in the midst of our own daily routines, though, we are often unable to truly uncover and understand the unique experiences of those around us. As unfortunate as this reality may seem, is there really any way to change it? It turns out that the answer is actually yes and four rising Roslyn High School seniors have already got it covered.
In December of 2018, then high school juniors Daniel Sung, Josh Samuel, Nick Terbancea and Daleep Grewal teamed up to launch Humans of Roslyn (HoR), a project designed to enhance our recognition and regard for fellow members of the Roslyn community. The crew developed a website, www.humansofroslyn.org filled with photo portraits of Roslyn community members, each portrait accompanied by a quote from the photo’s subject.
These quotes, often times raw and sensitive, offers readers a unique lens through, which they can look into the lives of Roslyn community members.
“Starting a project from the ground up without the help of any adult supervisor was new to me,” said Sung, founder and president of HoR. “But I had such a strong desire to create a body of work that I could look back on and genuinely be proud of while making some kind of impact on the people around me.”
The project is based on photographer Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY), a renowned photography blog and book filled with photos and interviews of people stopped on the streets of New York City. Digital accounts of love and trust, heartbreak, joy, loss and pain spread throughout these communities, bringing life and attention to people whose stories may otherwise have remained hidden.
This growing movement was one of many sources of inspiration for the HoR team in building their own website. The team was also motivated by the hope that their project would help members of the Roslyn community broaden their horizons and learn from one another.
“Our team of four people really felt like we were in a bubble in Roslyn, like it was difficult to gain perspective on the world from inside of such a sheltered community, and we felt that having people share their life experiences and the lessons they’ve learned along the way would be a great way to gain that perspective,” explained Terbancea, publicist of the HoR project.
Once Sung assembled a team of devoted partners, the group quickly began focusing on logistics. The entire team, Sung recalls, was fully committed to bringing what was only an idea at the time to fruition. Together, they invested in a camera, worked on developing a website and then, established a plan to conduct interviews. The team sought to interview a diverse range of individuals within the community of Roslyn. Beyond reaching out to people whom they already knew, such as friends, teachers and their friends’ parents, they also pursued unfamiliar interviewees by venturing through the streets of Roslyn on their own. They went door-to-door in different neighborhoods, entered restaurants and retail stores to connect with their managers and employees. The team continues to use these methods to find new HoR contributors, and they now also receive interviewee suggestions from fans and followers of the page.
Once they find their subjects, the HoR team members engage in short, guided discussions with them. They choose to take an organic approach to their interviewing process, viewing each exchange not precisely as an “interview,” but rather as an authentic, genuine conversation. The team members have found that this method not only allows them to learn more about each individual’s life, but that it also enables them to form deeper levels of connection with their interviewees.
“When you view these interviews as having a conversation with a stranger, you remove the tension of the expectations that you have from them and allow yourself to connect with the person for who they are and what they’ve experienced,” said Samuel, co-founder and vice president of the project. “That kind of purity doesn’t come about quite often on a day to day basis and having the privilege to do so has proven to be quite therapeutic.”
Indeed, it appears fitting that these discussions are carried out more as conversations than as formal interviews. The stories on the HoR platform often contain fragile, vulnerable sentiments with a depth that likely could not have been reached through a formal, interview-like setting.
One HoR story centers on a young woman’s candid remembrance of her recently deceased mother. Another story details the diagnosis, frustrations, and ruminations of the oldest patient alive with a rare condition called Eisenmenger Syndrome. These are the real stories of real people within our very own community.
These are our friends, coworkers, and classmates. These are our waiters and our doctors. These are our neighbors, just a few out of all 29,278. The HoR team’s firm dedication to this mission is growing, as is their desire to touch and influence their readers.
All Humans of Roslyn stories can be found on www.humansofroslyn.org. The HoR team can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Gemma Schneider is a recent graduate of Roslyn High School and was the editor-in-chief at the school’s newspaper, The Hilltop Beacon.