Black History Today: Cal Bonner, a true artist blazing his own trail

This post is part of an ongoing Black History Month series written by Marcus Harden, a truly unsung hero of South Seattle, as he honors the living legacy of Black history in his community and beyond, and recognizes the people who are shaping the future.

Cal Bonner

“Take advantage. Do your best, don’t stress. You was granted everything inside this planet. Anything you imagine, you possess.”
–Kendrick Lamar

By Marcus Harden

We often fall short in the field of education in exploring the passions of our students, and in truly helping them to refine and cultivate those passions into purposeful careers. With the best intentions, we will ask students to think “realistically” about what type of employees they want to be, instead of having them envision what type of entrepreneurs they can be or what kind of life they want to live.

We urge them to find a place for themselves by coloring inside the lines, even as we know that sometimes the most beautiful art is painted beyond the edges of the canvas.

To find a role model of someone living as a young entrepreneur, coloring outside of the lines as a true visionary, look no further than Calvin Bonner. Born and raised in a unique scenario splitting time between the Central District and Southeast Seattle, Calvin is a testament to innovation, perseverance and vision.

Cal attended Garfield High School and later transferred to Chief Sealth, where he played basketball and football until he was released from the team by the coach for being a “bad influence” due to his having “too many” tattoos. In the eyes of his coaches, the artwork inked onto his young body made him a less than worthy of being on the team.

Yet, as always, Cal would persevere, going on to graduate from high school and attend Bellevue College. Cal would transfer from Bellevue in pursuit of basketball, all the while nurturing the urge to be more, to create, to be his own businessman.

He would continue to play basketball in Arizona and then eventually in Nebraska, where Cal himself at a crossroads, wanting to support and help his family in Seattle and yet answer the call of his urge to become an artist. Ultimately, he stepped away from basketball, and he began to suffer from depression. But he didn’t wail, and he didn’t let it drown him.

He found a way to channel that dark energy: art. He was always artistically inclined but had never focused on it. Creating became therapeutic for him. He cultivated his art by practicing and letting his creativity guide him. Above all, Cal did not allow his depression to overtake his life.

He kept perfecting his craft and was constantly evolving. His roommate suggested that he should become a tattoo artist. At this point, Bonner didn’t think that was an option, but it piqued his interest. He began researching the possibility.

Before long, Cal returned home to pursue that possibility with support from his girlfriend, Keviona, and he began to freelance as a tattoo artist. Slowly but surely, he built his portfolio, expanding that passion into artistry on canvas. In 2017, Cal took the next step in living in his own vision when he opened Vision Ink Tattoo Shop.

Since the opening, Cal has continued to deeply dive into his chosen path. He has expanded the shop to host other small businesses and has had his portraits and artistry featured with Black Inc. Crew, Jacquees and Nipsey Hustle, to name a few. His journey had seen him soar from being a boy with a young mother, to being told his love of his art wasn’t acceptable, to now sharing his talent and vision with the world.

Cal Bonner is a testament to never giving up, cultivating a vision for yourself no matter what limitations others see. Calvin could have been the living story of what Jay-Z once rhymed: “I felt so inspired by what my teacher said, said I’d either be dead or a reefer head. Not sure if thats how adults should speak to kids, especially when only thing I did was speak in class, I’ll teach his ass.”

Instead, Cal took that same energy and crafted his own legacy. The first person in his family to graduate from college, an entrepreneur, a loyal family man, a father to his daughter — all accomplished while not only painting outside of the lines, but while cultivating a tapestry for others to paint on as well. His life is a vision manifested, and that is why Cal Bonner is Black History, today!

Bonner Family.jpg

To learn more about Cal Bonner/Visions Ink:

Instagram: @Vision4rm_CalB