Nina Turner: Spirit Of A Fighter, Heart Of A Leader
Turner has dedicated her life to creating the change she hopes to see reflected in communities across America.
July 06, 2021 at 2:33 pm
It’s a sweltering summer afternoon in June, and despite a packed schedule that will have her working long into the evening, former Ohio senator Nina Turner sits energetic and alert in front of her computer. Her signature cat-eye glasses briefly catch the light as she adjusts her frames for the camera.
Normally larger than life on the campaign trail, Turner’s passion still bursts through the screen during a recent virtual interview with Blavity.
A self-proclaimed “hellraiser humanitarian,” Turner’s love for service was developed at an early age. This is a path that would lead her everywhere, from the Ohio Senate to a position as the national co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign. Along the way, she made history as the first Black woman to represent multiple wards on the Cleveland City Council and the first woman elected as a state senator in Ohio’s 25th District.
“My political journey really started, I would say, in college. I didn’t realize at the time that my student activism would definitely plant the seeds for me to do what I do,” she explains.
“Whether it was the student newspaper or forming a student organization (Students of Positive Action), my colleagues and I thought ‘If we can get people to register to vote, we can get communities engaged in the political process, and they could change their lives through politics.’ And in many ways, I know that it was getting me prepared for what I am doing right now,” she adds.
Since then, Turner has dedicated her life to creating the change she hopes to see reflected in communities across America. The former educator rose from a position as a Cleveland councilwoman to the Ohio Senate, and now she’s focused on the road ahead as she works to secure a seat as a Democratic congressional candidate.
We recently sat down with this proud champion for the working class, impoverished and unhoused to discuss her Ohio roots, the #NinaTurnerForUs campaign and more.
Meet Nina Turner
The oldest of seven children born to a nurse’s aide and a truck driver, Nina Turner had a firsthand perspective of life within a working-class family. Growing up in Cleveland’s Lee-Harvard community would teach Turner hard lessons, leading her to take her first job at the tender age of 14 to help support her family.
Watching her mother battle high blood pressure — something that would ultimately claim her life at age 42 — taught Turner yet another painful lesson. She witnessed the effects of inequalities within American healthcare systems, particularly for Black and other families of color.
Turner’s childhood would make her acutely aware of systemic racism and other racial imbalances. “When we drill down to the African American community in particular, unfortunately, even in the 21st century, we suffer disproportionately. When you look at unemployment rates, education or even health care, our health outcomes are less than others in this country.”
Following degrees from Cleveland State University, the Sigma Gamma Rho alumna has since set her sights on empowering communities through political activism and keeping individuals and families afloat.
“I believe that sometimes you have touchpoints in your life. You might not at the moment know how all of that is going to come together for something in the future, but I can see that every little step of my journey was getting me prepared for this very moment,” Turner reflects.
From Ohio to the National Stage
Walking in her purpose has often led Turner to the political arena, an area she’s mastered through years of leadership within the community. Since winning her first seat as a city councilwoman, she’s remained dedicated to improving the lives of Ohioans — a message that has resonated throughout her campaign.
“As a native Ohioan, I really feel that the issues that impact the African American community have to do with quality of life issues, and there’s a wealth inequality that we must reckon with. We have not dealt with that as a nation. Certainly, my state must deal with that, but the nation must deal with that,” Turner says.
In a nod to the financial collapse of 2008, she goes on to explain how issues like unemployment and public health issues like COVID-19 have impacted the Black community. “The Great Recession caused Black people in this country to lose 50% of their wealth. Nobody has answered for that or for what happened on Wall Street. What they did was certainly a stain on this nation, but the African American community was hurt in deeper ways.”
After weathering the storms of that recession, the Black community has been battered by the ongoing pandemic, which has greatly impacted it both through higher incidences of COVID-related complications and the sheer amount of Black businesses lost. This is yet another economic blow that will take years to realign if left unaddressed.
The majority of Ohio’s Black workers found themselves unemployed or adjusting to reduced hours during the pandemic, resulting in a loss of income that will take months — if not years — to regain.
“For Black people in Ohio, it's about jobs, health care, child care — all of those quality-of-life issues that impact the greater nation are also impacting African Americans in Ohio. During the pandemic, one million Ohioans actually lost their health care because it was connected to a job.”
Or, as the Columbus Dispatch reported last July, “Blacks in Ohio ranked at or near the bottom in every category, including food sufficiency, the ability to make mortgage and rent payments and access to medical care.”
For Turner, leading the change to address such racial and systemic inequalities is one of the cornerstones of not only her campaign but her life’s work. This is why the Medicare-for-All supporter continues to champion for the rights of the working class.
Nina Turner for Congress
With her sights set on returning to office as a congressional leader, Turner has worked to amplify the voices of the impoverished, people of color and the working class by focusing on issues closest to her.
She describes her platform as “an opportunity agenda as I am running to be able to go to the United States Congress, the ‘People’s House.’ Within the House of Representatives, I want to stand in solidarity and push policies for the poor, the working and the (barely) middle class. It’s unfortunate that the people with the most resources have the loudest voices and most access. We have to begin to stand up in this country and say that something is wrong with the system.”
Turner has offered her own solutions, including COVID recovery, economic and environmental justice, housing as a human right, Medicare for All, expanding public education and reimagining public safety. These issues have earned endorsements from elected Ohio officials like Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Senators Sandra Williams and Kenny Suko and others.
Within Congress, Turner’s also earned support from Senator Sanders, Representatives Katie Porter, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and more. She’s also garnered additional support from organizations including MoveOn, National Nurses United, unions for American Postal Workers, Amalgamated Transit and even voices like Attorney General Keith Ellison, Academy Award-winning actor Danny Glover, actress Susan Sarandon and many more.
This support has empowered Turner to keep pushing forward on priorities like student loan debt and education, an issue she notes is particularly frustrating because, historically, college was either affordable or free in some areas — something unfathomable (by design) today.
“The majority of student loan debt is held by Black women and the Black community in total. We tend to hold that debt longer and have higher interest rates. Canceling student loan debt would solve both a class conundrum that we face, but also a racial justice conundrum that we face in this country,” Turner shares.
Adding, “There are many other things that need to be done on the racial justice front — hear me clearly on that. But canceling student debt will relieve the burden of millions of people in this country and the African-American community more pointedly.”
Citing the current obstruction in Congress, Turner has also pushed for greater accountability within the current congressional body, as important legislation remains stagnant, such as the George Floyd Policing Act, which passed the House only to get caught in political limbo within the Senate. Turner hopes to address this during her own tenure.
If nothing else, Turner relies on her Midwestern background — mixed with a dash of Southern roots stemming from the Great Migration — to propel her in the fight for true justice and economic equality for all.
“In the Midwest, we are gritty. We’re really a microcosm of the larger United States in that we’re fighters, especially in the 11th Congressional district. And that ‘never say die’ attitude has certainly molded and cultivated me. My grandmother was from the South but migrated to Cleveland and made it her home with only a third grade education. And she was robbed, as many Black men and women of her time were. Many of them didn’t get the opportunity to fulfill their greatness. The types of professions they could go into, they were limited. So really, my maternal grandmother is the foundation of my fighting spirit.”
Not one to shy away from a fight or any challenge, Turner is determined like no other, and if her energy is any indicator, she’s well on her way.
To the nation, Nina Turner’s a woman with big thoughts and bold ideas; to those who know her well, she’s simply a professor, wife, mother and grandmother with a passion for her community and those around her. Ready to join her fight? Learn more about Nina Turner for Congress here.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Nina Turner For Us.