TheGrio's 100: Bonita Carr, director of youth center pushes the envelope on urban education

theGRIO's 100 - Bonita Carr, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Lighthouse Youth Center in Chicago's South Side neighborhood Bronzeville, which provides mentorship...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Bonita Carr, Ph.D. is the executive director of the Lighthouse Youth Center in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville. The Lighthouse Youth Center works with at-risk youth and provides them with mentorship in the form of academic and spiritual development.

Before going to work for the Lighthouse Youth Center, Carr was the executive and national director of PUSH Excel, a program aimed at keeping inner city youth in school and assisting them with job placement as part of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Bonita Carr is making history as… a leading advocate on urban education. In addition, Carr is the president and CEO of Keen Insight Consulting, where she consults with school districts all over the country about urban education.


Q: What’s next in this chapter of your life?

A: In Chicago, 50 percent of African-American students are dropping out of high school annually. Furthermore, 60 percent of Chicago public schools students are ill-prepared after graduation from high-school. Therefore, in the next chapter in my life, I want to have a more direct role in eradicating the achievement gap and drop out rate for African-American students. How? By opening a charter school rooted in the belief of “no excuses and by any means necessary.” My school will have high expectations for all students, a rigorous curriculum, and motivated and passionate educators. This school is necessary because education was the key for me.

Q: What’s a fact about you that many people don’t know?

A: Many people don’t know that I went to college because I heard friends at the cafeteria table talking about getting a college degree versus going straight into the workforce. That conversation literally altered the course of my life. How? I come from a family that encouraged a high school diploma only. However, my purpose was greater than that. Q: What’s your favorite quote?

A: My favorite quote is by Ropo Oguntimehim: “Education is a companion which no future can depress, no crime destroys, no enemy can alienate and no nepotism can enslave.” I know without a shadow of doubt that education is what saved me. Education is the key to opportunity. I was given the opportunity to work for one of the greatest civil rights leaders of our time because I invested in my education. My education enabled me to write op-eds, travel across the world and conduct education forums with U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, Bill Cosby and so many others.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

A: I receive my inspiration from African Americans from the past and present such as Fannie Lou Hammer, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall, President Barack Obama and so many others! Each of them is an odds buster. Each of these individuals inspired me to work hard, be disciplined, sacrifice, prepare, be diligent, be great and above all believe that all things are possible.

Q: Who are/were your mentors?

A: My direct mentors were two powerful and awesome African-American men who told me and showed me the importance of education. Their names are Ronald Woolfolk and Professor Ernest Washington. Both of these men mentored me to graduate from college, earn a doctorate and believe that nothing is impossible.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to achieve their dreams?

A: My advice is to not let anything become a crutch for you. One of the most common reasons people have for not pursuing their dreams is the state of the economy. To these types, the economy or the testing of the circumstance is never quite right for success. Further investigation by these individuals would reveal that the economy is not something “out there” it is something, “in here.” No mater where the economy is (or is headed), successful people don’t depend on fortunate circumstances.

Talk to yourself like Muhammad Ali until you believe you are the greatest. After you have talked to yourself you must act! You have to choose to believe, pursue and prepare for your dream. I vividly recall, while I was pursuing my doctorate, that many other doctoral students told me that I wouldn’t complete my doctorate in four years because the average completion time is 7 to 10 years. I talked to myself, took action, prepared diligently and completed my Doctorate in four years! In order to achieve your dreams you must be dogmatic. You must be focused. You must be hungry and you must sacrifice.