For most of his early years, Alvin T. Pennue’s life was full of upheaval and uncertainty. Born in 1981 in Liberia, Alvin spent his first eight years splitting his time among Grand Gedeh County, Nimba County and Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, with his grandmothers, his father and various caretakers. His father was a military colonel with the armed forces of Liberia, and although Alvin didn’t always live with his father, he played a significant role in Alvin’s early life.
“He was a nice person, a people-person, a person who [did] what is necessary. He [stood] for the weak, and he was loyal to wherever he found himself and to whom loyalties [were] due,” Alvin says of his father. Alvin says that his father recognized his son’s innate leadership skills and cultivated those by entrusting him with responsibilities and allowing him to participate in conversation with adults when they had visitors at their home. Ultimately, his father was the patriarch of his family, and Alvin says, “upon his death, I took up the mantle.”
In 1989, the First Liberian Civil War broke out and in 1990 Alvin’s father was killed in an RPG attack. “My father was killed at the Freeport when they captured the President of Liberia. He was killed by Prince Y. Johnson, who was the rebel leader of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia at that time,” Alvin says. At 8 years old, Alvin took responsibility for his younger sister, Anita, as they left Liberia and fled to the Ivory Coast. At first, they didn’t have anywhere to stay, so they would sleep under trees or on strangers’ porches. Eventually, their father’s brother found them and took them in. Alvin stayed with his uncle, and his sister lived with an aunt. Alvin attempted to attend school, but with so many refugee children the schools were overflowing and the mix of languages was difficult.
Alvin and Anita’s maternal grandmother found them with their uncle in 1992, and wanted to take them under her care, but their uncle wouldn’t allow it. Under the guise of bringing Alvin to the hospital for a rash, she took him and didn’t bring him back. “She didn’t want me to go back because her notion was I was going to grow up with malice,” Alvin says, due to what happened to his father. They set up a time to discuss what should happen with the children. Before they met, Alvin’s grandmother told him that he’d have a better life with her, with more education and opportunities, but if he stayed with his uncle he’d be a farmer. When they got to the meeting, Alvin’s grandmother told them to just ask Alvin what he wanted to do, and when they did, he said he wanted to go with her.
Alvin, Anita and their grandmother moved back to Monrovia, Liberia, in 1995 and stayed there until 2001, when the Second Liberian Civil War forced them to flee once again, this time to Ghana. At first, Alvin wasn’t allowed to attend school. He says they weren’t taking Liberians because they felt they had “violent tendencies.” However, Alvin really wanted to study, so for an entire week, he sat outside the headmaster’s office during the school day, with the exception of lunch, when the headmaster ate with his pupils in the canteen. After a week, the headmaster gave in. Due to all of the delays in his schooling, Alvin was 23 years old when he graduated high school in 2004.
Alvin and his sister moved to the United States in 2008. “We always operate as a team,” he says. In Indianapolis, they were reunited with their mother, who had moved here in 1985. In the 10 years that Alvin has been in Indianapolis, he has worked in warehouse staffing, studied criminal justice at I.T.T. Tech, been a patrol officer through a private security company working hand in hand with the IMPD, and served as the deputy chief for a crime prevention task force. He also did a course in American Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Massachusetts.
In April 2017, he became president of the Liberian Association. At the time, the organization had been struggling for a while. Both first and second generation Liberians participate in the group, and understandably, some of the youth had started assimilating, which made the elders concerned that they were losing touch with their culture. “I was the perfect one to step in there and bridge the gap,” Alvin says. While in the position, he has worked with the Indy Chamber to bring Liberian business to Indiana, helped create a Sister Cities relationship, and worked with the IMPD so they could understand the Liberian people and so that the Liberian people could better understand the system.
While Alvin has enjoyed his time in Indianapolis, he says he’s planning on moving home in the near future. “My services are needed back home. We need to work to push a global agenda, which is caring for people and giving them the chance,” he says. He wants to continue working with law enforcement and government and push the agenda of unity. “When the time is right, I will be there,” Alvin says.
Written by Hannah Lindgren