Brooklyn, NY — You could say that New York City College of Technology (City Tech) played an important role in 17-year-old Olympic medalist Lia Neal’s life.
Lia is the high school student from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, who won a bronze medal this past July in the 2012 Olympics 4×100-meter freestyle relay. She has City Tech to thank for being the place where her parents first met.
Rome and Siu Neal were students (he in marketing, she in accounting) at City Tech (then New York Community College) back in the early 1970s. “We met in the cafeteria,” Rome recalls. “She was sitting with a friend. I walked in with a friend who introduced the two of us.”
They had something very basic in common — both of their families had moved to the New York City area in search of a better life. Rome’s family came from Sumter, SC, to escape racial oppression. Siu and her family immigrated here from Hong Kong to join her grandfather.
Not long after they met, the Neals, now both 59, married. They celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary this past August 31 at a party attended by all four of their children — Rome Kyn, 37; Smile, 36; Treasure, 32; and Lia, 17.
Siu earned an associate degree in accounting at City Tech and went on to hold jobs as a bookkeeper at several companies. Rome graduated with an associate degree in marketing and continued at Baruch College for his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
City Tech holds a special place in his heart. “Not only did I meet my wife at the College, but it opened up several opportunities for me,” he relates.
Rome was interested in fashion design as a City Tech student. A display of his clothing was held in the Klitgord Auditorium, with students and staff wearing his creations. A Daily News reporter came and published a story about him and his fashions, giving the fledgling designer some positive publicity. After he graduated, Rome started a clothing business, applying what he learned in his marketing classes to his career.
While still a student, Rome received a scholarship to go to Africa. “Going there opened up a whole new world for me,” he says. “I had been interested in African religions and my trip inspired me to write a play, God Made Man in His Own Image, which was produced Off-Off-Broadway.”
Rome went on to become an actor, director, theatre and jazz music producer, and jazz vocalist. For the past ten years, he has produced Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz, a monthly jazz jam and open mic, at the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village. It brings together seasoned and up and coming performers.
To say that the Neals are proud of their daughter is an understatement. “Lia is just the second African-American female swimmer to make it to the Olympics,” Rome proudly says.
The Neals were committed to helping Lia realize her dream to be an Olympian — Siu getting up at 5 a.m. to drive their daughter to and from practices and school, and both using vacation time to take her to meets and competitions around the country. Rome understands what it was like to pursue a passion — he didn’t start his career as a jazzman until 2000. He and Siu both project the attitude that all things are possible if you go after them.
“We wish Lia continued success in the Olympics in years to come,” Rome says. “My hope is that she wins gold medals in individual events in the 2016 Olympics.”
New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls more than 16,000 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.