Story by Shannon Green
Photography by Jordan Hollender
Originally created by and posted on SalaamGarage.com
Alex Lonzo is a family man. Nothing is more important to the 23-year-old than his wife Caroline and their 1-year-old baby girl, Harmony Marie Lonzot. The former foster kid wants to give his daughter the kind of secure and carefree childhood he wasn’t able to experience.
Alex never knew his biological father, and he was taken away from his mother, who was HIV positive, when he was just five years old. Both are now deceased. Alex does not criticize his birth parents, but he is determined to do better. “This is my chance to prove myself,” he says, “to do everything I wish I could have done with my father.”
Raising a baby can be daunting for any new parent, especially for one who lacked strong role models. Alex is learning the ropes of fatherhood from Eli Nealy, a man he’s called dad for the last three years. “He treats me like I was his,” says Alex. He met Eli through You Gotta Believe, a Brooklyn nonprofit that finds adoptive homes for older foster care youth.
Alex currently lives with Eli and his wife, Alexandra Soiseth, in their Yonkers home. They are taking steps to make Alex a permanent part of their lives. “They are there for me, they support me, and they love me unconditionally,” he says of his parents.
His Early Years
Alex has been looking for that kind of acceptance for most of his life. His first foster mother beat him and his brothers severely, sometimes using sticks, wires, or pipes on the boys. Alex once required 15 stitches after she pushed him through a glass door.
“I really had hoped to have someone that would love me, care for me, and protect me,” says Alex, “but it wasn’t like that.” When given the choice of permanent adoption into an abusive home environment, Alex ran away. His two brothers stayed behind, but he says he knew the living situation was not right.
Alex instead spent his teen years living in group residences, and he called members of Bronx gang the Bloods his family. “I was the type of guy who was always in the streets, always selling drugs, always fighting people,” says Alex. “I didn’t care about my life,” he says, “so I just went with them, did what I had to do.”
Alex’s affiliation with the gang proved costly. As a minor, Alex was locked up six times for gang-related assault, drug possession, and robbery. While serving a two-month sentence in juvenile detention for stabbing a man in the chest, Alex decided he wanted out. “I turned my life around after that,” recalls Alex.
Freedom For A Price
But eschewing gang life wasn’t easy. In order to be released from the Bloods, Alex, then 16-years-old, had to fight five girls and five guys at one time. It took two months for him to recover from the injuries he sustained in the fight. But afterward, he was free.
“I left it, folded my flag, and just went on with it,” he says. “From there, I would never look back at that.” Now that he is a husband and father, Alex has an added incentive to stay on the straight and narrow. “I’m always going to be there for them,” he says of his family. “I never want to get locked up again.”
When talking to Alex today, it’s difficult to detect that the young man has such a troubled past. He is open about his personal history, but has chosen to focus on the possibilities that lie ahead for him in life.
Alex is working as a cook, and he plans to eventually move his family into their own apartment. “I’m saving, saving, saving,” he says. But Alex is also pretty content being where he is right now. “I have beautiful parents,” he says.
Eli and Alexandra also have a little girl, and Alex sees himself as a guardian for the whole bunch. “I have a very huge family now,” he says. “At once it was just me, but now my family has expanded so huge that I could never ask for more.”