From Guyana to the U.S. | Welcoming America

From Guyana to the U.S.

Keiron Bone Dormegnie | June 22, 2015

In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, Welcoming America's Keiron Bone Dormegnie shares his grandfather's immigration story with us. Read on to learn about Louis Bone's journey to the United States to pursue his passion and a better life for his family. You can read more inspirational immigration stories at welcome.us.

In 1957, my grandfather, Louis Woolford Bone, started a long American voyage. “Louie” left his birth home in the South American colony of British Guiana to enter a doctoral program at the University of Chicago. In his mid-30’s with six children, a wife, and a large extended family in the city of Georgetown, Guyana, he left the country to continue his studies at a renowned institution of higher education.

Booming Chicago urbanity was a mecca for other black, Asian, and third-world peoples. It lay just above the Jim Crow South of racial segregation, poor white farmers, and dilapidated schools for black children interspersed with the privileged elite. A self-educated school teacher, Louis had originally entered a bachelor’s program in Puerto Rico, but his professor soon invited him to transfer to the University of Chicago on a PhD track.

From the sugarcane estates of his South American roots to the cold, great lake-hugging Chicago, Louis honed his analysis and research skills among world-class academics. In three short years, he completed a thesis on variations of colonial education among the English, French, and Dutch Guiana, former European colonies in South America.

Louis returned to British Guiana as the country’s first American trained PhD in education. He designed corporate training programs and implemented methodologies to train teachers in pre-independent Guyana. His training and ability to travel was in part thanks to the U.S. post-World War II economic boom – one of the longest periods of economic prosperity lasting until the late 1970’s – and to the U.S. willingness to welcome a young man from a different shore.

With his children becoming college-aged and the economic shackles of colonialism, Louis chose to find work in the U.S. and provide for their various educational endeavors. Ultimately, my father and his siblings completed their university degrees across the U.S., the Caribbean, and the U.K. Louis joined the faculty of a historically black college in Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1960’s where he improved student success through early remediation programs, and obtained grants for constructing new facilities for the campus. He became a card-carrying Republican, built a network of U.S. friends over 30 years, and retired as a college administrator of Benedict College.  

Now, at age 93, Louis is back in Georgetown, Guyana. Crossword puzzles take a bit longer, and his tolerance for too much movement has diminished. But the gratitude at the opportunities the U.S. has offered him and his family still exist. Thanks to welcoming teachers, classmates, and groups in the U.S., he created a lasting legacy to prepare generations of African American professionals and leaders in South Carolina.

This year I celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month because people like my grandfather are part of the international, multiracial fabric molding America and developing tools of understanding for the world around us. In many ways, my America is still striving to live up to its founding ideals, still learning, healing social wounds, and connecting the spaces between newcomers and long-term residents – but through building highways, quiet nurturing spaces, and healthy connections between our world’s tribes, we can continue to live and strive for the ideal in which all people are welcomed and have the full opportunity to achieve their greatest potential.

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