Former Black Lives Matter activist lectures on ‘self-reform’

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE) and the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) brought public figure Rashad Turner to campus. At 5:30 p.m. students filtered into the Black Ballroom for his lecture titled “Don’t be an Educated Fool.” Both student organizations were enthusiastic about the event, seeing Turner as an ideal speaker to inform students on matters relevant to PAC, CUBE and the greater campus community.

“[Turner is] a really big name in the Twin Cities, so I’ve heard a lot about him from Facebook posts and friends,” PAC event planner Siri Ericson ’17 said.

Turner is a St. Paul native and was a key figure in the Twin Cities Black Lives Matter movement until his recent resignation. He attended Hamline University where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and is currently finishing his Masters in Educational Leadership at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. He has dedicated his life to community building and social justice in St. Paul from multiple angles.

Raised in St. Paul by teenage parents and his grandmother, Turner’s childhood greatly informed his current involvement in political and social issues.

“When I was about two years old my father was killed,” Turner said.“[Because of this] I grew up playing cops and robbers, thinking that someday I could catch the bad guys and keep other kids’ fathers from being killed.”

Motivated to help his community by keeping others safe, he pursued an internship with the police force and a degree in criminal justice. What he did not expect was that his friends’ and family’s opinions would not mirror his own when it came to his decision to go into law enforcement. Turner explained how while growing up his grandmother ensured he would have limited exposure to law enforcement, so his lived experiences with police differed greatly from those of his friends. This combination of circumstances motivated him to be a community safeguard once he was older. Turner maintained these dreams throughout his time at Hamline until he began police training after graduation.

“As I was going through training, there were plenty of people who had this mindset that policing was mostly overseeing and controlling people,” Turner said. “I had this new understanding of why my friends had pushed me to the side.”

Through his experience in police training, he realized the importance of macro-practice and activism when it comes to issues of racism. Turner eventually switched career paths and became an integral member of Black Lives Matter in the Twin Cities. He led rallies in Minneapolis and St. Paul focusing on the systemic realities of racial oppression.

During his lecture, Turner spoke about many of the issues he focuses on in his work. From police brutality to charter school reform, one of his main ideologies is centered around the importance of inner change in the context of activism. He believes that in order to improve race relations in your school, your state or the nation, the primary step is navigating your own implicit biases and eliminating them.

“If we’re going to make change in the world, we have to start with ourselves,” Turner said. “You have to have a level of integrity that forces you to do the right thing at all times.”

Through the lens of self-reform, he emphasized the importance of thinking for yourself amidst a socialized culture. He spoke about the power of imposed ways of thinking and argued that if we cannot interrupt the imposition of others’ ideas on our own, it is impossible to move forward. Turner discussed his recent decision to shift career paths again, resigning from Black Lives Matter St. Paul. He realized that he had not been maximizing his potential to positively impact those around him through his involvement. Turner acknowledged that leaders in race relations have continuously battled the same issues dating back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He believes that since then there has not been much progress and that policy must be revised to achieve advancement. Turner feels that Black Lives Matter began and remains a campaign for awareness concerning racial injustice, but that a next step is in order.

The event was well attended, with the tables full of students from all over campus. In closing, Turner reminded students of the difference that smiling at others on the way to class can make. He noted that this is key to building community and trust on any scale. He personified this mentality after the talk, engaging with students in dialogue for over an hour.

“Whatever you’re going to be, you have to keep at the front of your mind that what you’re doing isn’t for you,” he said.

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