HCCAC Board Members
Founder & Executive Director
ANDREA BONNER is a native Houston and owner of Style on Demand, a fashion consulting business. She is also chair of Consumer Arts and Sciences at Houston Community College where she leads the department and teaches courses related to the fashion industry. Andrea is convinced that using her platform to share her knowledge and equip her students for futures in fashion has been her true calling.
“Once I started working with students, this huge light bulb went off,” she says. “This is where I want to be. I really enjoy teaching students, and I always tell them that fashion is a multi-trillion-dollar industry globally and that there is definitely opportunity out there for them to make a living in fashion. Working with students to show them what those opportunities are and how they can do well in the industry is where I found my footing and my sweet spot.”
Serving as a board member at HCCAC is a natural fit for Andrea and gives her an opportunity to bring her organizing trendsetting skills in style to the performing and visual arts sector to help advance HCCAC’s mission and goals.
Barbara has a passion for helping and assisting others. She is currently employed at Grace Cathedral Church of Houston as the Church Administrator. She is also a director with Harris County Municipal Utility District # 344 and a licensed health and life insurance agent with Church Solutions Insurance and Financials. She is a certified church consultant and notary public.
Barbara has worked over 16 years for Chase Bank in various positions. She also served on the former North Forest Board of Trustees for nine (9) years and held various offices including board president. Barbara was born and raised in northeast Houston and remains active in the community and schools. She received her Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Houston Downtown. She is married to Lindsey Gaston, Jr. and they are the parents of three sons, Brandon (Tiffany), Brian and Roland Gaston and the grandmother of Serenity and Trinity Gaston.
Leyla Cantu is a real estate broker at Can-2 realty. In 2017, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services at Springfield, College. Mrs. Cantu volunteered at J.W. Oates elementary as a dance instructor and was also a member of the school’s Share Decision Committee. She was also the Executive Director of Houston Organization of Latino Artists, also known as H..O..L.A., an artistic development organization which focuses on promoting, enhancing and discovering talent by actively recruiting musicians and performers to allow them to reach their full potential.
Leyla Cantu very passionate about preserving and promoting the Mexican-American culture through the performing arts, and feels necessity and responsibility to share the sense of pride and identity that she has for the Mexican culture through dance. . Keeping in mind that children are our future, and a good foundation increases the possibilities of becoming successful citizens and an asset to society.
She has been dancing in a professional ballet folklorico group for the past 14 years. In 2014 she founded TBH/Mejikenze Ballet Folklorico at Talento Bilingue de Houston with a group of new dancers ranging between the ages of 5 and 18 years old. Mejikenze currently offers intensive and specialized training in the art of Mexican folk dance, emphasizing technique, body alignment, strength, control and style. The program is designed to develop-well rounded dancers and expand choreography by learning repertoire from various states and regions from Mexico. Mejikenze Ballet Folklorico also prepares students to follow either a professional or collegiate path, while assisting them prepare auditions videos for various scholarship programs and university submissions.
As has been noted, Leyla Cantu focuses in encouraging the teens in our community to discover their passion in art, music, drama and dance. She strongly believes that it will help them do better in school, find it easier to stay out of trouble and less likely to become depressed.
Joesette Simeon is a 20-year veteran educator serving the students of the Houston Independent School District as a Behavior Specialist.
Joesette began her career in education as a mentor and teacher at the W. R. Banks Child Development Laboratory on the campus of Texas Southern University. She advanced to the role of assistant director, during which time she implemented a literacy program for pre-kindergarten students.
With the opening of The Rhodes School in 2007, Joesette continued her career as a teacher of kindergarten students. Over time, Joesette took on roles of increasing responsibility and leadership, including serving in the roles of lead teacher and assistant principal. In 2013, she became the principal of the Robert E. Lee/Northshore campus.
In 2018, Joesette joined HISD’s Secondary Discipline Alternative Education Program (DAEP). She is currently a Behavior Specialist to high school. Joesette also serves as the Culture Coordinator, collaborating with all stakeholders to with the goal of improving school culture and climate.
A native of New Orleans, Simeon holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a Master of Arts degree in Human Services and Consumer Science, both from Texas Southern University. She also completed studies in the Texas Principal Excellence Program and the Texas Teachers EC-4 program.
MEET MICHELLE L. BONTON, M.ED,
INNOVATOR, TRAILBLAZER, CHANGE AGENT
Michelle Bonton is a native Houstonian, veteran educator, entrepreneur, and a self-described “broke philanthropist,” who believes in giving of her time, talent, and resources to impact the community for good. As a public servant in education for 30 years, 15 of which were in senior leadership, Michelle impacted the lives of thousands of children and their families. Building on her training and leadership she founded Kaleidoscope Youth Development Services, (KYDS) Inc., in 2006 and led the organization for 13 years. At the time of her retirement in 2019, KYDS, Inc., had a 14 million dollar budget and employed nearly 200 people most of whom were people of color.
Michelle has always been a change agent who advocates for others, (she petitioned her middle school principal to request a school bus stop closer to the apartment complex her family lived in, saving herself and her classmates a 2 mile walk each day!). As a teen mom, Michelle fought to overcome the associated challenges, but found it extremely difficult to navigate a system that was structured to foster cyclical failure rather than success. Those experiences taught Michelle the reality of the truism that says, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the table,” and gave birth to her desire to have a voice in the making of laws and policies that impacted her life and the lives of others like her.
As a community leader, Michelle consistently advocates at the city and state level ensuring that the voice of the people is heard and that action is taken on their behalf. Her training and knowledge of education led to her service as an education policy specialist during the 83rd legislative session. Additionally, Michelle has been called upon to testify at the state level on education issues several times over the course of her career, and acted as a policy analyst for Fox 26 Houston’s Front Page Talk segment in 2013. Her policy work has also included time as a freelance writer for the Tribune newspaper, serving as a member of the Greater Houston Black Chamber Legislative Committee, the Lake Houston Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs Committee, and as a policy analyst for the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats.
Michelle currently serves as founder and Executive Director of Harris County Cultural Arts Council (HCCAC), the sole source for cultural engagement and the arts in unincorporated East Harris County. Michelle believes that the arts are essential to the healthy development of the mind, the body, and the soul and that one cannot fully benefit from the human experience without them. She started HCCAC to ensure that everyone— young and old, rich or poor, black, white, or brown—can experience the arts within their home community.
Additionally, Michelle recognizes that the intersection of art and activism presents opportunities for creative expression, community dialogue, and shared cultural experiences, and through her leadership at HCCAC seeks to use the arts as a tool for social justice.
Michelle holds a Mid-management certification from Stephen F. Austin University, a Master’s degree in Counseling from Prairie View A&M University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing from the University of Houston Downtown.
When she is not in the trenches fighting for change, Michelle enjoys spending time with her family. She has been married to her husband Ellis for 36 years. They have three children and nine grandchildren. Michelle is a committed Christian whose ministry passion is teaching and encouraging others toward spiritual growth.
Samuel D. Smoots
DIRECTOR OF INSTITUTIONAL ADVANCEMENT
As Director of Institutional Advancement, Sam Smoots leads HCCAC’s community engagement and organizational advancement initiatives. He is responsible for developing and managing capital campaigns, building donor, and government relationships, expanding programming and the organization’s footprint.
Sam is a seasoned economic development and international business professional whose most recent experience includes eight years with the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) along with 15 years as an economic development and project finance consultant.
Sam began his career as an International Protocol Officer for the City of Houston, arranging security, itineraries, and transportation for visiting foreign diplomats and delegations. Highlights include the coordination of a week-long economic development mission of eight West African Ambassadors and participating in the logistical arrangements for the 1990 G-7 Economic Summit hosted by former President George Bush in Houston.
He has also worked at the local and federal levels of politics as Legislative Assistant to the late Al Calloway, a Houston City Councilman who was Chair of the Economic Development Committee. He was also a Legislative Assistant in Washington, D.C. for retired Congressman Mike Andrews of Houston where he was responsible for banking, tax, healthcare and economic development legislation.
Subsequent to his time on Capitol Hill he became Program Coordinator for the African American Institute’s (AAI) Democracy program that provided technical support to African nations pursuing democratic transition. He also served as Executive Assistant to the Vice President of AAI. During his tenure at AAI, Mr. Smoots organized international election observation missions, international conferences, trade forums, and international visitor programs.
For eight years he served as Business Development Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation “OPIC”, an independent agency of the US government that has since been renamed the US Development Finance Corporation. Mr. Smoots was responsible for designing and implementing marketing outreach activities to promote OPIC’s financing, political risk insurance, and investment funds programs. During his career Mr. Smoots facilitated over $1.1billion in financing for more than 30 projects across 20 countries. The projects were in a variety of sectors including telecom/IT, hospitality, manufacturing, oil & gas, micro-finance, housing, telecommunications, power, healthcare, and agribusiness. His duties entailed working with American and foreign companies to review business plans and to provide structural recommendations for applications submitted for financing.
He represented OPIC at numerous conferences, interagency and Congressional meetings. He also
coordinated OPIC’s participation in Presidential and Congressional Trade Missions to Africa. During the 2000 Presidential Transition period, he served as Acting Vice President for the Investment Development Department and managed a 17 person staff of business development officers covering 140 countries.
Mr. Smoots has a Bachelor of Science degree in International Trade from Texas Tech University and continued his graduate studies in International Financial Management at the University of Maryland. He has a Certificate of Completion from the Harvard Business School for International Private Equity and The Federal Executive Institute for Executive Leadership Development.
Sam is a former term-member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Member of the Board of Directors for the U.S. Angola Chamber of Commerce.