That’s why he chose to write a children’s book “The Story of Alonzo Herndon, Who Says a Slave Can’t be a Millionaire?” (published in 2013 and illustrated by Jamie Rachal ’93), based on the life of his great, great uncle. His aim was not only to educate but inspire.
The book details how Alonzo Herndon was born into slavery in 1858 and eventually became a millionaire. “Uncle Alonzo overcame harsh conditions and attained wealth through barbering, real estate and insurance. He was the ultimate American Dream.” says Herndon. “I want this story to serve as an example for all young people growing up today. Even the privileged face a unique set of struggles and this real-life story proves that nothing is impossible.”
Herndon met with a group of O’Dowd students on September 14, sharing his life’s journey and inspiring them to “Dream big, work hard, stay focused and surround yourself with good people.”
An award-winning insurance agent, who is a member of the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table – the premier association of financial professionals, and a Board of Trustee Member of the Alonzo F. and Norris B. Herndon Foundation, Herndon said he learned the hard way that you can’t “just show up” and expect to have success.
As a student in Tony Green’s history class, Herndon didn’t take his studies seriously and Green wasn’t having it. “Mr. Green had the nerve to call my mother!” Herndon said. “He told her I was underachieving and not working as hard as I could.”
Herndon’s mother removed all electronic distractions from his room, leaving only his alarm clock. “She wanted to teach me a lesson,” he said, adding that she even threatened to pull him out of O’Dowd if he didn’t shape up.
As a result, Herndon decided he would no longer just go through the motions – he was going to work hard and push himself to greater heights, academically and athletically.
After graduating from O’Dowd, he attended The Ohio State University, where he studied communications and business administration and was a track and field All-American. During his first year at Ohio State, he broke the school record in the 600-meter run (1:18.05). During his college athletic career he was a five-time Big Ten champion and a team captain.
It was while Herndon was at the NCAA Indoor Nationals at the Georgia Dome that he noticed the Herndon Home, located a couple of blocks away from the stadium. He remembered having heard bits and pieces of the Herndon family history as a youngster, but decided to learn the full story.
“I never knew that Alonzo was the first Black millionaire in the south, that he founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, and that he helped start the Niagara Movement that was the precursor to the NAACP,” Herndon said. “He not only pulled himself and his family up by the bootstraps but also helped other African Americans better their lives and achieve equal rights.”
Added Herndon, “My dream is that his amazing journey inspires readers, young and old, to achieve greatness no matter how many obstacles stand in their path.”