In both the city of Albion and on Albion College’s campus, Dr. Harry Bonner is no stranger. Faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members know Bonner for his dedication to Albion and the community’s youth. He has positively impacted many people , including Michelle Mueller, the author of the newly published book, “Mr. Bonner: The Story of a Mentoring Journey.”
The book explores Bonner’s impact on the Albion community between 1975 and 2015. In 1975, Bonner began working at Albion High School as a hall monitor. At the time, racial fights were breaking out between students at the school. Bonner knew the students involved in the fights from the community scene.He was able to stop the fights after identifying their source: The students didn’t feel they had people at the school who they could trust or believe.
At the time, Bonner didn’t know that what he was doing would soon turn into mentoring.He understood, though, the concept of leadership and the importance of young people having a solid leader to follow.
The book is broken down into five parts. Each covers one decade since 1975 and includes the stories of Bonner’s godchildren within the decade he mentored them. Many of these stories begin with a child facing adversity in one way or another, and Bonner takes them under his wing as a mentee and helps redirect them on the right path.
“Some [godchildren] said, ‘I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Mr. Bonner.’ And those stories are really powerful,” said Mueller.
One of these godchildren is Mueller, who has been mentored by and is close to Bonner. A resident of Albion since 1985, Mueller also is close to the Albion community, both on and off campus. She then became a reporter for the local Albion newspaper, The Recorder, in 1997, the same year Bonner began mentoring Mueller, specifically on racial awareness.
“I was a very naive, white-privileged person. I would start looking at something with one interpretation and rethink or watch what Mr. Bonner was doing, and realize I didn’t have a clue,” said Mueller. “I was fascinated by everything that I learned.”
Much of Bonner’s work focuses on bringing light to racial issues in Albion/Marshall schools, Albion College and the surrounding community. Bonner said it wasn’t hard for him to understand that there are racial prejudices in the world and that people of color are usually impacted more by adversity. This, in part, is why Bonner focuses on mentoring children of color that are at-risk, aiming to eventually redirect them on a path toward success.
“Diversity is a challenge for this community. And fortunately for me, I get a chance to make an impact on [the community]. The best way to make an impact is to have successful students, both students that come from the community or elsewhere that also make an impact and leave a legacy,” said Bonner.
Above all else, Bonner said that the relationships he has built with so many young people is what has impacted him the most. He understands many of these kids’ cultures and helps them define their culture so they can become more set in their own identity. This work has been his life and his career for the last 40 years, and he prides himself on the successes of his mentees.
In May 2015, Albion College President Mauri Ditzler recognized Bonner’s great efforts to change the community for the better and help redirect Albion’s youth. Ditzler awarded Bonner an honorary Doctorate degree in Humane Letters, giving him his current title, Dr. Bonner.
“Every time I thought about pursuing a master’s or some other degree, there was always another child that needed a father. I chose the child [rather than a degree]. It was a very simple choice,” said Bonner.
Mueller’s book about Bonner will be for sale on Amazon shortly and will also be sold in the Albion College bookstore.