Alonzo Allen was born in Monticello, graduated Berea College and moved to Georgetown in 1988.
Growing up, Allen’s parents instilled in him the importance of education, Allen said. They wanted their children to have opportunities not afforded to them.
“I remember growing up as a kid, they would always ask me, ‘is your homework done?’
“Now, I know they couldn’t help me, but they would always ask that question,” he said.
Alonzo Sr. and Lena Allen pushed their children to remain active in school. Sports was always secondary, he said.
Berea College was where Allen could work and go to school.
“I chose Berea because you had to work for 10 hours a week minimum,” Allen said. “I knew by doing that I’d help pay for my tuition and offset some costs that the family couldn’t afford.”
Running the printing press for the student newspaper became love for Allen.
“I was working in the print shop. (I) got to do some typesetting and a lot of different things—run the printing press for the campus newspaper—just did a lot of things like that,” he said. “Loved it.”
At the beginning of his junior year, Allen’s advisor encouraged him to choose a major because up to that point he was an undeclared student, he said. So Allen took some time to think and explore campus more.
“I took one weekend and walked around the campus some Saturday and Sunday and went into every building,” Allen said. “I was looking (at) everything. And I said, ‘God, just show me—help me here—because I don’t know which way I’m turning.’
“As I came out of the industrial arts building…there was a $20 bill just laying there at the end of the door.”
Allen took this as a sign and decided to study industrial arts and management. He went to tell his advisor the story to which his advisor said, “sounds good enough to me.”
Some four years ago, Allen went with his family to visit Berea College. He said there was something he had to do.
“I told (my family) the story and I went back to the building—which is a new building now—and I laid a $20 bill down at the base of the door coming out of the building,” he said.
Allen moved to Georgetown in 1988 with his wife, Tonya, and a baby on the way to work at Toyota. He worked at Toyota for 25 years as a team leader, manager of production in plastics and worked in project management roles. He served as executive on loan for the Bluegrass Community & Technical College Georgetown campus in the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program. Allen served as second director of that program, he said.
After retiring from Toyota, Allen went to work for the University of Kentucky.
“(University of Kentucky has) a program that (Toyota partners with UK) to start the lean systems program,” Allen said. “So, teach the Toyota production system and then go onsite with the companies and help them. That was Mr. Cho’s legacy program that he wanted to give back.”
Now Allen runs his own business, Lean Business Solutions, where he helps companies with efficiency improvements. This new business and what Allen has accomplished up to this point has also afforded him the ability to give back, he said. And one of the ways he does that is through mentoring.
Through the Lexington Leadership Foundation Allen has been mentoring a young man named Isaiah.
“I always like to challenge him, give him opportunities, and expose him to different things,” he said. “We’ve been to UK Engineering Day. We’ve been to the BCTC Georgetown campus. He’s met the mayor. He’s met the judge-executive. He’s met the economic director. I am always exposing him to different opportunities and always tell him, ‘you know, Isaiah, you can do this if you want to.’”
Another way Allen gives back is through community involvement. After George Floyd and many events leading up to the protests last year, he began asking “what’s next?”
Race relations is important to Allen and so he came up with a process.
“What I tend to do, I look at things as a process,” he said. “If I can break it down to a process level that I can get my hands around and I can see where the issues are, I can say, ‘OK. Here’s where we need to focus our energy.’
“If I can’t get it to a process level it just becomes finger pointing and nothing really happens. So, I try to take it out of the personal and put it into a process which is something that can be tackled.”
The community has been supportive of the efforts he and others are putting forward, Allen said.
The Community Coalition Group was started to create an environment of inclusion, diversity and equality for all citizens. The group consists of nine local organizations all working together to better the community.
Allen and others have talked with local officials of the city about hiring processes and getting more diverse candidates in office, as well as law enforcement and other areas.
Through being involved in these areas Allen has begun to see people come together who may not have known each other in the past and as people talk through past experiences a better understanding of perspective is coming to light, Allen said.
He has also helped talk local businesses through best practices to stay safe while open during COVID with the city economic director, he has also been a part of the Community Relief Fund with Transform Scott County and the AMEN House.
Watching his father, Allen learned a lot about giving back to the community, he said. That is why it is important for him to do the same.
“I’ve seen that all my life through him setting that example,” Allen said. “And he’s always told me, ‘(When) people are hurting they are doing the best they can—help them anyway you can.’”
James Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.