Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘The last time I got arrested, I said I can’t do this anymore.’

Pamela Neely, Huntington Station

“At 26 years old I was in college, I was working full time, had mutual funds and I was saving to buy my own home. My mother died. She taught me everything about life, but nobody teaches us about death. After I lost my mom, and I had a breakdown and I started using drugs.

“I got involved with a lot of the wrong people, I was naïve and gullible, and I thought people were loving and caring because that’s what I came from but it’s an evil world. I kept getting arrested and continuing to go in and out like a revolving door. Part of why I kept returning was there was never anything available to me when I got released. I couldn’t continue to live that way.

“The last time I got arrested I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I went cold turkey; I didn’t go to a hospital for detox. I got clean on my own. That was in 2000 and I haven’t looked back. I’m not that person anymore.

“I had a little Yorkie that was my baby named Lightning. I called her Light Light. She got very sick and I had to put her down. After that, I had to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life because she consumed my life. She was like my physical therapist, I had operations and she was always with me.

None of us are bad people. We just make some bad choices.

“I’d be feeling sorry for myself, but I had to get out of my bed and walk the dog and take care of her. She gave me a reason to get up. Then I got involved with New Hour for Women and Children. I was part of the first cohort of the emerge program a few years ago. It’s been amazing. I became a peer leader in an advocacy program, a 10-week program to become an advocator. They give you support.

“I got the chance to see women coming home from incarceration and they’d get involved in the program and say, ‘I don’t have a job, I’m living in a shelter.’ Then the next week, they’d say, ‘I found a job, it’s gotten better.’ It’s like watching a flower grow, blooming and blossoming.

“I became very empowered, that helped me a lot. Now I’m the social justice coordinator for New Hour. I’m a team leader advocating for two parole bills for elderly people in prison and so people who are eligible for parole get out unless they’re a risk. None of us are bad people. We just make some bad choices.”

‘I got pregnant at 19 years old, and I said, ‘I’m becoming a stereotype.’ I wanted to break the cycle.’

Huntington Station

“My mom was 16 when she had me and I grew up in poor sections of Glen Cove. My mom has limited education. She was also addicted to drugs and my father was as well and in-and-out of jail my whole life. But my Mom always instilled in me to get an education and make something of myself; get myself out of the hood.

“I got pregnant at 19 years old, and I said, ‘I’m becoming a stereotype.’ I wanted to break the cycle. I wanted to show my children and my youngest cousins how we can be something more.

“I was part of a mothers group and after the sessions, I felt ostracized because they’d get into their huddles and talk and I’d be off to the side as the only black woman. The meeting leader asked for a volunteer to lead the group, I raised my hand, she acknowledged me, but I wouldn’t hear from her and she’d keep asking for leaders at the meetings. I approached her after a meeting, and she had no choice but to take me up on my offer.

I made sure they would never underestimate a black mother again and they hired me to become a facilitator to model other centers.

“I had to do something for my family and for black people and I vowed to be one of those voices. I made that location of National Association of Mothers Centers be a model center. I made sure they would never underestimate a black mother again and they hired me to become a facilitator to model other centers. I realized how powerful my voice was. I landed at an organization called Every Child Matters, advocating for children’s issues.

“I started to use my story of growing up in childhood poverty and motiving people to become advocates for policies that needed their voice. I published a book in 2019 called ‘Poverty’s Phoenix,’ a memoir about surviving childhood poverty.

“In all this, I noticed black folks were working together and white folks were working together, there was a lot of segregation. So, I started both the Women’s Diversity Network and the Long Island Black Alliance, a multigenerational and multicultural group to make lives better for black people on Long Island.

“You don’t have to be a victim to your circumstances, you can feel the strength and power to break these generational curses.”