We can’t help but call Lia Neal our own, though she was born and bred in New York City–Fort Greene, Brooklyn to be exact.

She first appeared on the pages of the Amsterdam News when she was a mere 8 years old. Neal was just a little girl making a splash, literally, with her great swimming, becoming one to watch even before she was a tween.

As the years progressed, her swimming intensified and her level of competition rose to the national and international level. She became a world-class athlete.

At the tender age of 14, she narrowly missed qualifying for the 2008 Olympic swim team. But in 2012, her dreams came true, at least partially. She made it to the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., but did not qualify for an individual berth in the games; however, her speed did earn her a place on the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay team.

Her speed and determination in the pool this past weekend helped the U.S. women clinch a bronze medal.

As the 17-year-old Neal took to the medal stand, she had an entire city, community and nation standing behind her.

The little girl in Fort Greene whose parents schlepped her back and forth to the Upper East Side of Manhattan so she could swim competitively at Asphalt Green is now adorned with an Olympic medal.

She was–and is–our future standing on the podium.

But she did not get there without a lot of help. She could never have done this without the love, help and support of her parents, who believed in her unwaveringly–and kudos, too, to the parents of Olympian John Orozco of the Bronx. They nurtured and supported her and let her know that dreams are not just dreams but possibilities.

When we think about Neal and her success, it makes us question why was she able to accomplish so much while others have had such different paths.

Neal has had opportunity and goals, and she has made a way for herself in this world. Her passion has been harnessed and directed into something so positive that she is able to stand before the world and say, “I am an Olympian.”

But what about all of the other young people we see all the time with no passion, no direction and no dreams? Those young people may not have had the support of their family, friends and community.

This is a problem we need to figure out how to solve. We talk about the violence in our communities, but where does it stem from? It is not just the streets; it is not just the lack of a great education. It is a lack of cooperation between everyone who has an interest in what goes on in our children’s lives.

Yes, we can blame the police, yes, we can blame the schools, yes, we can blame the government, but we also have to look at ourselves. What have we done–or not done? Have we given our children hope? Have we provided them with direction? Have we done our best? Until we have done our very best, we can’t look to others and ask how they have contributed.

Granted, every circumstance is different and all children are not the same, but first we have to look and see what we have done, then look outside and see how we can change all those other circumstances.

Our children can be Olympians. Our children can be presidents–our children can be anything they want to be, but the first step is providing them with the tools. Let’s raise the next president, let’s raise the next doctor, let’s raise the next Olympian. Together as a community, we can make that difference and raise a generation of excellence. We owe it to them; together, we can all wear the gold.