…I would tell them that their voice has the power to change the world, so find something you are passionate about and ‘speak on it.’ The power to create change is within each and every one of us.
Wehad the pleasure of interviewing Dominique Jordan Turner.
Dominique is the CEO of Chicago Scholars, an organization whose mission is to provide talented, academically ambitious, and underserved high school students access and success through college and beyond. Dominique is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion. Her leadership has been recognized both locally and nationally. She was among 20 global leaders selected out of 20,000 applicants to be an inaugural Obama Fellow. Dominique believes in servant leadership and serves her community through board service as a member of the Chicago Public Library board and the Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ) board.
With a passion for leadership and preparing leaders, Jordan Turner has been selected as a member of Leadership Greater Chicago and IMPACT Leadership Development Program. She is a former board member of the Board of Education, which is a role she was appointed to by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Her entrepreneurial spirit also led her to found Black Girls Lead, which convenes African American women running nonprofits to serve as a social and professional support system for each other. Her latest undertaking involves C4 (Chicago College and Career Collaborative), which convenes practitioners in the college access and success sector to create systemic change.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Dominique! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Iwas born in Chicago to teen parents. We eventually moved to a small manufacturing town in Michigan in search of more opportunities. This small town had just one high school and very few Black people; very little diversity at all. In hindsight, I look back and laugh because I truly believed that we lived in a “post-racial” world in 1994 when I graduated. I was a cheerleader, did the morning news and was generally accepted because I was smart. Being the one and only Black person in many of those spaces strongly informed my college choice. I am a proud graduate of a Historically Black University: Clark Atlanta University.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is a book that changed my life and one that I recommend to anyone who will listen. When you grow up poor, there is a strong desire to break that cycle of poverty and find “success,” however you define it. When you are living in poverty, it’s very easy to look around and see all of the things that are stacked against you reaching those goals. While those barriers are very real, Think and Grow Rich taught me how to use my mind to manifest my greatest desires despite the systemic barriers that exist for people like me.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“I’ll find a way or make one” is my college motto that has become my life’s motto. The world will throw a whole lot of “no’s” that will make you want to quit. This quote reminds me that what I want to be is up to me. It reminds me that there is always a “yes” on the other side of that “no.” It’s just up to me to find it. I am the first in my family to graduate from both high school and college. I had no idea how I was going to pay for it. I hear so many “no’s” with nudgings to go home, save up more money and then come back and try again. If I would have taken that advice, I surely wouldn’t be here today. As the CEO of Chicago Scholars, this is the most important piece of advice that I give to our students who are also attempting to be the first in their families to cross that finish line of college.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe that we all can lead from wherever we are. Leadership to me is the ability to change or influence someone or something. That leadership begins with using your voice and speaking up about things that you care about. When you speak out, your words have the ability to change someone’s thoughts. Those thoughts ultimately change someone’s actions and behavior. When that happens in a collective fashion, that is how we change the world. I’m so inspired to see the leadership of this younger generation of zoomers who are collectively using their voices to speak out against racism and police brutality. As they have spoken the words, “Black Lives Matter” over the last month, we have seen considerable change across the country. These young people hold no traditional leadership title, but they are indeed leading in some of the most inspiring ways I’ve seen in my lifetime.
In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?
Miss Jennifer Pitre is one of the people that I’ve come across who has had an indelible impact on my life. I met her on my first day of college when I was looking for a work-study job. She asked me for my resume and cover letter, much to my surprise. As a first-generation college student from a working-class background, I had no real clue of what either of those things were. Although I was frustrated by her request, she patiently walked me through creating one. This gesture taught me the importance of being “ready” and always presenting my best self. Over the few years I worked with her, she taught me how to be a professional, how to have difficult conversations, and how to advocate for myself. Outside of the professional aspect, she taught me how to be more loving, kind and gentle with myself. Because of this relationship, I was able to become the first in my family to graduate from college. We remain friends to this day and I still lean on her for advice regularly.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
What’s happening across our country is about social justice. We all grow up believing and even teaching our children the tenets of a social contract that is supposed to exist in America. That social contract tells us that our hard work and college degrees would provide us some semblance of equity. But recent events — the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others — have been painful reminders that this social contract does not exist for many of us, especially our Black and Brown students. And even COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on communities of color has exposed the injustices and inequities that continue to pervade throughout our system in America.
I believe that we are in the midst of a social justice crisis. As a Black woman in a leadership role, I know for certain that I have had to work twice as hard as my non-Black peers to be here. In my community, it has been informally referred to as the “Black tax.” Sadly, we have accepted it as a norm but this generation of young people are using their collective voices to elevate the different standards that exist for people of color. In my role at Chicago Scholars, I have the privilege of seeing the genius in the young people we serve and what I know for sure is that our world will be much better off when that talent is realized.
As the CEO of a nonprofit organization whose mission is to cultivate diverse leaders for our city and our world, it is important to not only recognize but address the obstacles these talented young people will face on that leadership journey. Those obstacles represent the social justice crisis. The first step is earning that college degree. Sadly, just 9% of poor people will ever attain a college degree by age 25. Education is social justice. While the center of our work is about college attainment, there is nothing magical about that piece of paper. We collectively must work to address the other obstacles that people of color face on the road to equity and justice.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
There’s a long and short answer to this loaded question. The short answer is that COVID-19 stilled the country long enough to see what many are calling a ‘modern-day lynching’ of George Floyd. While the murder of George Floyd is more common than many realize, this was the first time that millions of people were not distracted by sports, school, summer plans and daily responsibilities to see injustice in action. We were glued to our television trying to learn more about this unknown virus but what we saw has changed this country forever. I would say that the 8 minute and 46-second video became the boiling point.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
There are so many things that we can do to contribute to that healing. Here are just a few ideas:
- Talk to your family. Racism is a social construct that is taught. That teaching begins at home. Be open and reflective about whether unconscious bias exists. Consider watching the documentary 13th together as a family.
- Read “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. While most people believe that they are not racist, that is not the same thing as actively being “antiracist.”
- Donate. Much of the works needed to heal our country is done by nonprofits. However, nonprofits run off of the generosity of others. Support organizations doing social justice work.
- Expand your friend circle. Seek out a more diverse friend circle for both you and your children. To be clear, this is different than volunteering in communities of color.
- Use your voice. This can be via a peaceful protest or a blog, but as I mentioned before, voices change thoughts and those changed thoughts turn into action. That collective action helps to change and heal our country.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am highly optimistic about our future. Never in my lifetime have I seen change happen as quickly as I’ve seen in the past few weeks. What is most powerful is that the changes we are seeing are not stemming from people in traditional leadership roles. They are being triggered by everyday people like you and me.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that their voice has the power to change the world, so find something you are passionate about and ‘speak on it.’ The power to create change is within each and every one of us.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Personally, I would like to meet with Ursula Burn. Having been the first Black woman to hold the CEO role of a Fortune 500 company, I believe that she has many pearls of wisdom that would be beneficial to me personally as well as our Chicago Scholars.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can reach Chicago Scholars by visiting www.ChicagoScholars.org or @chicagoscholars
Personally, I can be reached by visiting www.DominiqueJordanTurner.com or @DJTspeaks