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interview 2010

John Henry Thompson InterviewQuestions for Black History Month Project:

From: Lynn Wanita Sexton, For Brendan Sexton. My son is a 4th grader and has been assigned to to a project on John Henry Thompson. This project counts for 3 grades and he will be doing a presentation on March 23rd, 2010 (Silver Lakes Elementary School in Miramar, FL). Do you happen to have any biography books that can assist him with this project? We have search the website for information, but there is not too much, except About.com (Inventors) and famous-black-inventors.net. My son needs to have information such as birth date, parents, siblings, where the person lived, accomplishments, occupation, and visuals for the project. He even needs to dress appropriately when represent the person he has been assigned to research on. It would be appreciated if you could lead us to some sources of information in order to present a good biography of you.

Brendan's interview questions:

What is your birthday?

Iwas born 1959. I keep my full birthday date private.


What city and state were you born in?

Iwas born in Hackney, England.


Describe your childhood home and where it was.

Fromwhen I was about 1 years old, I lived in the countryside of Jamaica, WestIndies, on a farm with my Aunt and her children. The life on the farm was verysimple: no running water, no electricity. I remember the sunshine, the homecooked food, and the farm animals: goats, chicken and donkeys. One day while ridingon a donkey, something scared the donkey and he ran off with mysister and me. When I was about 5 years old, my sisters and brother, re-joinedour parents in Essex, England. England was very cold. Boys were required towear shorts, even in the cold of winter. We lived in a two-story home with aback yard. I grew lettuce and tomatoes in our back yard garden. At age 12, theentire family moved to Brooklyn, New York, USA. My family shared an apartmentwith an Uncle. The apartment was near the elevated train. The train was verynoisy.


Where did you grow up and what was it like there?

Fromgrade 6 until grade 12, I lived in apartments in New York City. When my familyfirst came to the USA we lived in Brooklyn, then the Bronx and finally Apt. 2Fin 409 Edgecombe Ave in Harlem. My Uncle was the superintendent and he livedwith his children in the apartment below us in  Apt. 1F. In the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance, 409 Edgecombe Avewas the home of many famous African-Americans. The nickname for theneighborhood is “Sugar Hill.” The apartment building over looked Yankee Stadiumand the Polo Grounds, a very large housing project.


As a child, did you have pets? Were any special to you?

InEngland we had a cat, and a pet dog, called Tiny. Tiny ran away one day and Iwas very sad. Later, sometimes my siblings would mention his name and I wouldcry.


What did you enjoy doing as a child?

WhenI was in elementary school I enjoyed building things and drawing. I built homemade kites and boats. I designed of cars based on the brochures my fatherbrought home from his job at Ford Motor Company. In middle school I wasinterested in electricity, I built electric motors, a projector, and a wireless radio. I entered my 7th grade Science Fair with a quiz device thatI designed and built. It had lights and card slots for multiple-choicequestions. You would answer a question by choosing an answer card, A, B, or C, andputting it into the question slot. If the answer was correct the light would goon. My favorite magazine was “Popular Mechanic.” I enjoying going to the libraryand reading science fiction, books on electricity, and books on drawing.


What was your favorite outdoor activity?

Ienjoyed riding my bike around Central Park.


What were your earliest memories?

Myearliest memories were living on the farm in Jamaica with my siblings andcousins. I remember my first class room in Jamaica. Several grades were in oneroom. We used slate boards to do our work. The slate was a small piece of blackboard, which had to be erased for new work. One time I was disappointed to haveto erase my work since I had gotten all the math problems correct. We had totake our lunch to school and some times some milk. We’d try to run really hardand shake the milk bottle hoping to turn it to cream.


Whatis the name of your parents?

Walterand Mabel Thompson. My Mother passed away in 1995, and my Father in 2005.


Describeyour parents. What were they like? What did they do?

Wheredid your father work? What is your strongest image of your father?

Myfather worked at the Ford Motor Company as a painter. He also worked part time asa cab driver. My father emphasized the importance of seeking education, nomatter what your circumstance.


Didyour mother have a job? What is your favorite memory of her?

Mymother was employed as a Nurse’s Aid in a home for the elderly. My mother enjoyedproviding great home cooked meals for her family and joking around. OneHalloween she went to work dressed as soldier.

Didyou have any siblings and if so what were their names?

Ihave two younger brothers: Joseph, and Jervis. Jervis teaches digital media atDrexel University. His web site is www.jervo.com. I have two older sisters,Judith and Jennifa.


Describeyour grandparents. What did you enjoy the most about them?

Mygrand parents passed away before I could meet them.


Whowere some of your friends growing up? Are you still friends with them today?

Istill keep in touch with one friend from high school. My friends from earliergrades I have lost touch with.


Didyour friends ever get you in trouble when you were younger?

Inever got in trouble with my friends. My friends and I would mostly go to thelibrary and play in the parks.


Whatwere some of your chores and did you get and allowance as a kid?

Mydaily chore was to clean the stove and take out the trash. I did not get anallowance, but my parents would provide for me whenever I asked. I startedworking part time after school and full time during the summer beginning in 9thgrade, at which point I paid for most of my expenses.


Whatschools and colleges did you go to?

Iwent to Junior High School 80 in the Bronx and Bronx High School of Science. Igraduated with a degree in computer science, with a minor in visual arts, from MITin 1983. I also studied studio art, life drawing and painting, at the ArtStudent League in New York City in the early 1980’s.

I’vetaught graduate classes  at NYU/ITPand undergraduate classes at Drexel University in the late 1980’s and 1990’s.

Inthe late 1980’s I studied Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance, withMestre Marcelo of mandinga.com in Oakland CA.

Icurrently take yoga classes regularly at Dhyana Yoga, Main Line Ardmore PA.


Whatwere some of your jobs or occupations? What made you get into the computerfield?

Iwas very interesting in electricity in middle school, this developed into aninterest in computers. I read an article in “American Scientific” that explainthe inner workings of calculator. I was fascinated by the number of steps a calculator had to take to addtwo numbers. I was also intrigued by the popular theme in science fiction ofcomputers becoming smarter than humans. I had a goal to learn how computersworked, similarly to my first early quest to understand electricity. Though aseries of events I was able develop a deep understand of computers beforegraduating high school.

Akey event started with my 9th grade math teacher, Mr. DonaldCutler. He reasoned that it made more sense to teach 9th yearalgebra immediately followed by 11th grade trigonometry. Heaccelerated the 9th grade algebra work so that we could cover whatis normally a full year of algebra in half the year, and take the state regents test in December. In the second half of the year we completed 11thgrade trigonometry and took the state test of it in June. When I was acceptedinto the Bronx High School of Science for 10th grade, I learned thatthey had a computer class, but it was only open to 11th graders. Iwent to the math department and explain that I already had 11thgrade math. I was able to add the computer class by giving up my lunch period.

My10th grade math teacher, Ms. Schwartz, help me with the next step onmy journey. I let her know I was seeking an after school job, she thenintroduced me to the Youth Opportunity Program, run by the state of New York.It was designed to give high school student meaningful work experience. I wasaccepted into the program and started working in the computer center at the NewYork State Psychiatric Institute mid-way through 10th grade. I wasemployed as a part time computer operator, which meant putting computer cardsin the computer and folding the printed output, not programming. But the jobwas easy enough to do and leave me with enough time to learn other computerlanguages and do my school home work. It was a dream come thru for me, I waslearning and getting paid. Even better I was only two train stops from my homeand during the summer I was employed full time.

Mynext big break came just before I graduated high school. I wanted use thecomputer programming skills I had developed to get employed as a computerprogrammer and earn enough money during the summer help pay for my first yearcollege expense. One of the research scientists who used the computer centeroffer me a job to write data management and statistical programs the summerbefore I went away to college. In addition to graduating from high school I hadgraduated from computer operator to computer programmer.


What are some of your accomplishments?

What is something that you are really proud of and why?

Iam proud of the software products that I have created and teaching. I worked onthe Adobe Director software for many years. My main contribution to it was thedevelopment of the Lingo programming language. The language was designed to beeasy to learn, and it was the first programming language for many creativeprofessionals (writers, artists, animators). I also taught for several years atthe New York University Interactive Telecommunications Graduate Program. Ienjoyed helping others learn how to express them selves on the computer.


Whatdid you like to do in your free time as a kid? What do you do in your free timenow?

Asa kid I enjoyed drawing, building things, gymnastics, and martial arts. Now Ilike to continue learning about science and practice yoga.


What were some of the crazy fads you or your friends wentthrough?

Inhigh school I had one of the largest afros.


Did you admire a famous person or have an idol?  What made them admirable?

Iadmired Leonardo da Vinci because he invented cool stuff and he was a greatartist.


Areyou married and if so, how did you meet your spouse?

Whatare some of your fondest memories with your spouse?

Iam not married.


What are some of your favorites? (color, food, ice cream,book, movie, song, sport, holiday)

Ilike Mexican and Indian food. I like Indian Kirtan music, like Krishna Das.


Isthere something you wish you could do over again? Is there something you wouldstill like to do in life?

Idon’t find it useful to regret the past. I try to learn from my past. Today I’mpractice yoga to help balance out all the time I spend sitting at the computer.


What things do you find yourself doing that you said you'd"never" do?

Ican’t recall planning to “never” do something. I focused on dreaming about thethings I’d like to do.


Tell me about a memorable moment in your life; a time youwill never forget.

What are some of the changes in our society that you haveseen in your lifetime?

What great historical events you have experienced in yourlifetime?

Theelection of President Barack Obama was one of the most memorable moments in mylife.


 What are thegoals you are still working toward?

Mylife long goal is to development my mind, body and spirit to its fullest potential,and along the way shared what I’ve learned with others.


 When peoplelook back at your life, how do you want to be remembered?

Iwould like to be remembered for helping others realize their dream, as manyhave helped me.


Web references

My other website www.j4u2.com 

“NYU/ITP Black Genius Award 1997” video 


From top left, my sisters Judith and Jennifa. From the middle left, my brother Joseph, my mother Mabel with my little brother Jervis, and me, John Henry Thompson.