Jefferson High Grad Heads Dynamic New Research Center

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Bonner on the cover of the current issue of Diverse magazine.

By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute Editor

Dr. Fred Bonner will quickly tell you that you can take the kid out of Jefferson, but you can’t take Jefferson out of the kid.

“All that I am, all that I do is part and parcel with Jefferson, Texas,” Bonner, who now heads the MACH-III Center on the Prairie View A&M campus, said. “Everywhere I go I talk about Jefferson, Linden and East Texas.”

And Bonner does go literally “everywhere.”

With degrees from North Texas, Baylor and Arkansas, Bonner speaks at international symposiums and was recognized in the August edition of “Diverse Issues in Higher Education” magazine as a major player in researching how the world views black males.

“What I want to do is change the narrative,” Bonner said.

Bonner said he tired of hearing about “the deficit model” for black males.

“Instead of looking at deficits, we (at MACH-III) are looking at academically gifted African American males.”

It is a shift in cultural vision not lost on other members of the education community.

“The MACH-III Center is a shining example of the impact an educational research center can have at an HBCU by providing international, national, state and local solutions to advancing our understanding of students of color in HBCU contexts,” Dr. Chance W. Lewis, the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Urban Education at the University of North Carolina Charlotte said in the “Diverse” article by Jamal Watson. “Dr. Bonner is doing outstanding work in elevating the educational scholarship in this area.”

Bonner, the center’s executive director, launched the enterprise with a Texas A&M University System Chancellor’s Research Initiative (CRI) Grant in 2015 that provided the initial funding for the creation of the spacious center housed within the Whitelowe R. Green College of Education at Prairie View.

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Bonner with Dr. Stella Smith, associate director, and Dr. Kamala Williams, editor and creative services director on the Prairie View campus

“Fred Bonner is a visionary scholar and leader whose work is reaching children of color, educators and families,” says Dr. Donna Ford, who holds the Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. “It is rare and refreshing to see an HBCU have a center focused on gifted students. He is setting the bar for what equity looks like.”

Colleagues describe Bonner as unusually energetic and driven, has been barnstorming the country, applying for grants and reaching out to potential funders who are interested in supporting the Center.

The response, so far, has been encouraging. In addition, he and his staff have been providing ongoing presentations, lectures and roundtable discussions at convenings throughout the world, most recently in Paris at the International Centre for Innovation in Education, where he accepted the International Award for Excellence in Higher Education on behalf of Prairie View. In 2018, Bonner and MACH-III will host the international forum in Texas, the first time to be held in the U.S. and to be hosted by an HBCU. Dr. Nicholas D. Hartlep, associate professor of Urban Education and chair of the Early Childhood and Elementary Education Department at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn.—a Minority Serving Institution—invited Bonner to serve as the inaugural Dean’s Visiting Urban Teacher Education Research Scholar.

“Dr. Bonner’s scholarship and by extension, his center, expands and redefines the term minority, in an effort to set the stage for engaged scholarship that speaks to the assets and potential inherent among populations of color and other marginalized groups,” says Hartlep. “Dr. Bonner’s asset-based research on people of color is important because it breaks away from the historically deficit-framed perspectives of diverse students, which often focuses on what these populations are not achieving or accomplishing.”

Bonner tries to not let the accolades expand his hat size. He knows where it all began.

“I had great beginning in Jefferson and Linden and a great education at Jefferson High School.”

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