Open Mind

My Brother Lonnie

Lonnie is what I called Alonzo. Ours was a relatively calm and peaceful relationship.  We were raised together in the same small house built by our grandfather in Peekskill, NY with our mother and father, my father’s sister Babe, and our sister Pauline.

Lonnie was 3 years older than Pauline, and Pauline 4 years older than me. The gaps in the ages were enough to limit our times together as we went through our growing years. Lonnie and I played in the house and yard together as children. For 8 years we shared a pull-out couch off from the kitchen until we moved to a larger house with our own rooms. Pauline shared a very small room upstairs with our aunt, even after Aunt Babe had a severe stroke.

Lonnie was a role-model for me. He was a serious child who did well in school, and in all the work we had to do at home, or on jobs at the homes of people in the neighborhood. Pauline was even more focused, and was a straight A student all the way through high school. I had some tall shoes to follow. “Are you the brother of Alonzo or Pauline?” Same schools, same teachers, same expectations. It was a lot to live up to.

Lonnie became an Eagle Scout in Troop 12. I joined troop 12 seven years later but only lasted a month. Lonnie ran the hurdles in track. I also ran the hurdles. Lonnie joined the Air Force and was into electronics. I joined the Air National Guard and worked in radar. Lonnie became one of the first people-of-color to be a Customer Engineer with IBM. A year after him I became the first person-of-color in the new IBM Apprenticeship Program in Computer Electronics.

The family was proud and not surprised at Lonnie’s graduation from the NY Institute of Technology when they announced that he had won the prize for the highest grade in electronics.

Lonnie and I never saw each other at IBM. He worked in New York City, and I worked in Poughkeepsie. During my 5 years with IBM I never saw another person-of-color who was an engineer, technician, or scientist. I imagine Lonnie’s isolation was similar to mine. We were not just two dots under a microscope; we were two brown dots under an electronic microscope. All of our peers were college graduates mainly from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, or some other prestigious college. We both enjoyed our work with IBM. Lonnie so much that he stayed with them for 37 years.

What I learned from Lonnie and my father was to work hard, don’t complain, and do your best. I will miss Lonnie very much, and I still feel lucky that he was my brother and friend throughout my entire life.

Open Mind

A column by 
Offie Wortham

He is a Futurist who was a former Research Scientist, Civil Rights Leader, Social Activist, Community Psychologist, and College Professor. 

He is now a Free-lance writer and volunteer in several agencies in Vermont.