NEW YORK (PIX11) — Larry Smith, a community activist who grew up with Jordan Neely in foster care, is speaking out about the failures of the system that he says contributed to Neely’s death.
Smith and Neely grew up together as foster brothers. To Smith, Neely was his big brother, best friend and mentor.
As a community activist, Smith fights for foster care reform. Smith said he and Neely were both products of a broken foster care system in New York City.
Smith and Neely first met after they were both placed in a foster care home in the Marcy Houses in Brooklyn years ago. Smith described tough times and being moved from home to home over four years.
“Four years of betrayal, rejection. Four years of nervousness. Four years of abandonment. Four years of pain,” Smith said.
Smith and Neely both eventually aged out of foster care and ended up homeless on the streets of New York City. One way Neely would get money for food was impersonating Michael Jackson on the trains. Smith was right there with him.
“He would do ‘Billie Jean’ and I would be sitting there with the hat he gave me from Michael Jackson and collect a couple of dollars,” Smith said.
Smith said Neely tried to get help from the city, but he fell through the cracks.
“There is no reason why Jordan was on the Section 8 list for so long and never got picked. There’s no reason why foster care youth have been on the list for over a decade and have not gotten picked,” Smith said.
Neely was killed in a chokehold on a subway train last week. Video of the incident went viral and has sparked outrage, with calls for the man seen choking Neely to be arrested and prosecuted.
“I want to see a conviction, a charge,” Smith said.
Smith and many others believe what happened to Neely could have happened to anyone battling mental illness and homelessness. Smith fears he could have ended up like Neely while living on the streets.
“He lived to 30 years old in New York, homeless. That’s rare. Not a lot of people make it to 30 years old sleeping in a train car,” Smith said.
Even without permanent housing, Smith said Neely helped him find his way.
“He helped me with my college application to get into my college where I’m on my way to take my finals right now,” said Smith, who attends a HBCU in North Carolina.
Now that Neely is gone, Smith said it’s his mission to get justice, not only for Neely but for many others.
“Jordan never wanted money. Jordan wanted food. Jordan wanted resources. Jordan wanted a home,” Smith said.