Lia Neal: An Olympic Medalist, A Brooklyn Hero

Family, friends and neighbors talk about the lasting effect of Neal's bronze medal on a once-battered, now resilient, community.

When from the 2012 Summer Games in London in the 400 meter freestyle relay, seemingly all of Fort Greene rose up to express their pride in .

But no one could have been prouder than Lia's family, neighbors and friends—a tight-knit clan that has seen the 17-year-old's intense preparation pay off in a big, big way.

“It feels good, it’s blessed to have her back and for her to be at this level with the bronze medal. It touched a lot of people," said Rome Neal in front of the family's Fort Greene home earlier this month.

A passerby stopped Rome while he was outside of their apartment—where Lia was catching up on some needed sleep—and said he watched his neighbor take the bronze.

“It was really exciting to watch her, we all watched her,” the passerby said to Rome.

Sharon Lewis, a next door neighbor, even ordered a welcome home banner to hang on the Neal’s house. Lewis said that all of the kids on this block sandwiched between Brooklyn Navy Yard and Fort Greene Houses participated in decorating the banner.

The banner didn't just celebrate Lia's victory but what Lewis called the block's flowering after decades of neglect.

“My gosh, the thing with Lia is that she has lived on this block all her life. This block has come a long way, there used to be vacant lots all over, and now to have an Olympian who grew up here is amazing,” Lewis said.

Another neighbor, Aaron Whitby, said he let the Neals stay with his mother who lives in London while they went to watch Lia compete.

“She’s completely down to earth and is a humble superstar,” Whitby said while he stopped to talk with Rome Neal.

In the end, it was the Olympian's proud father that seemed to sum up Lia's effect on the neighborhood best.

“I feel very blessed my daughter could bring light to this neighborhood, borough and city. There’s so much darkness here with mass murders and we need hope. There’s been so much hope from TV and reading Facebook posts, everyone watched Lia win,” he said. “People said they have tears in their eyes because Lia won and that’s beautiful. It’s just a blessing to have her.”

Joe Gonzalez August 17, 2012 at 04:14 PM
The Olympics are over. The rents' due, children need to be fed, folks need jobs, there 500 empty apts in Fort Green Projects, NYC Schools are falling apart, NYC Subways are in dispair, all manner of movies are being filmed in Green Hill yet none of the profits are being invested in poor people, alcohol pushers have taken over every block in Green Hill...the list is endless. Ms. Hall is likely getting a movie and a book deal. And the core question is WHAT IS LIA HALL GOING TO DO WITH HER NEW FOUND CELEBRITY? Will Ms. Hall open her mouth and talk to all these politicans who she is posing for photos with? Will Ms. Hall ask these politicans to do something for and about all of the serious problems in our midst? Or will Ms. Hall take the money and run? We will see.
Corey August 17, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Joe, back off. She's a 17-year-old swimmer, not a political crusader. And learn how to spell her name already, otherwise STFU.
Joe Gonzalez August 17, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Corey: I will not shut up. Too many folks shut up when they ought speak out, Ms. Lia Neal included. I wonder how Ms. Neal could reside in the shadows of the huge social problems that exists in Fort Green Projects and NOT want to open her mouth to speak out about the pain and suffering of so many. As for her "being 17 years old" I say that if she is able to pose for photos with these politicans, and travel to Europe for the Olympics, she is old enough to carry our pain in words to the ears of the powerful. If not her, who then has the media attention to do so? Times definitely have changed. It used to be that when folks got a little position in the world they opened their mouth and brought to the public eye the pain of those masses who haven't made it. Corey, Im really surprised at you spazzing out at me. I have read your many prior posts and I always thought of you as a thoughtful conscience person.
bkgal August 17, 2012 at 06:13 PM
OMG Realllly? She literally just got back! You don't even know who she is, what she has or has not done, or what she wants etc. She's young enough to not even know all that yet! But before she has a minute to breathe and some more time to grow you want to tear her down like she is some career politician who has done nothing for the community that supported her. Focus your anger on those who deserve it. Leave her be.
Joe Gonzalez August 17, 2012 at 06:44 PM
bkgal: Sure you are correct that (Lia Neal) just got back...that I don't know her....that she is young... But you failed to speak to the core precept which I stated above, namely that Ms. Lia Neal resided in the shadows of Fort Green projects, found time to meet such slezzy do-nothing-for-Fort Green politicans as Bloomberg and Markowitz BUT did not speak out about the pain of the 10,000 poor folks in NYCHA projects. I wait prayfully that Ms. Lia Neal will use her new found celebrity to draw attention to poor folks' plight.
D'Raye August 17, 2012 at 06:51 PM
The favor of God is upon Lia's life!
Corey August 17, 2012 at 07:00 PM
I agree, keep up the fight (even when confronted with disparaging remarks).
ddMarie1 August 17, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Too many angry people in this world. Joe will next probably start yelling at the 4 year old playing in the playground for not speaking out because she's in a photo. If you have issues, write your local politician and leave Lia Neal ( a talented young lady doing something amazing with her life and inspiring so many) alone! How about you do something with your life and stop leaving idiotic and VERY inappropriate comments!
Joe Gonzalez August 17, 2012 at 07:16 PM
ddMarie1: Its your comments that are idiotic & non-responsive to my earlier postings. That's probably why you & the other posters hide behind fake names. More to the point it is a fair comment of mine to raise the question as to what folks who turn celebrity can do to reach back and assist the masses who are still in need of help. Just imagine, for example, if some of these rappers, who take large amounts of money out of Fort Greene (from their record sales) would have open their mouths to rally the elected officials to effect change in our community. Hit Corey's name & hit the comments link to his prior postings, you see he previously posted a commentary about the importance of folks assisting those in need. Clearly, there is nothing wrong with asking the celebrity set to reach back. Have a nice weekend everybody.
Ana M. August 18, 2012 at 11:53 AM
It says she grew up in the shadow of the Fort Greene projects not in them. We can't assume she knows the woes of them. I'm not agreeing with Joe or defending Lía but have u really read her biography? She goes to a private school in the upper East Side. With all that said I'm still proud of what she accomplished. A medal for USA.
bkgal August 18, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Why does she have to who you want her to be? Why should she satisfy your wishes of what she should say and when? Have YOU tried to focus our politician's attentions on the problems you named? If you have and you did it in the random and angry manner in which you just attacked a teenage swimmer who excels at her sport and won at the Olympics I can guess how successful you've been.
Jenny August 18, 2012 at 06:12 PM
seriously, she's a kid who did great. we should all just feel good about this.
Lucien Charles August 18, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Is this Joe Gonzalez serious? This girl just won an Olympic medal. Be proud for her.


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