Kevin J. Turner began high school at Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School on Milwaukee’s south side. During his junior year, he transferred and eventually graduated from the New School for Community Service in 1996, a brand-new high school at that time. Turner was part of the first graduating class. Milwaukee Public Schools was in the process of developing a new way of thinking—instead of students being in a traditional classroom setting, they were sent out into the field of their choice.
“I wanted to become a teacher so they placed me at Allen Field. I enrolled at MATC in a program for minority students who wanted to become a teacher, and after the 2-year program at MATC, credits transferred to a four-year institution. I went to Cardinal Stritch and finished the program for teaching. I think MPS was ahead of the game in a lot of ways – especially with this new way of thinking about education.”
Turner worked at Woodlands K-8 School, La Causa, Inc., and the Latino Community Center, all in various leadership roles. He recently finished his tenure with Journey House, where he managed and directed staff and operations. He is currently the interim executive director of the Milwaukee LGBT Center.
Turner recalled teachers who influenced him, beginning with Mrs. Wisniewski, his resource teacher who had a tremendous influence on him. He struggled as a student, but says he was looked over by an angel.
“I call her my angel, because she was always around when I most needed someone. She got me interested in ice hockey and took me to the Milwaukee Admirals games. I am still in contact with her.”
At Riley School, Turner says Robin Grindrod was a strong influence, as well as the principal, Mr. Novak.
“These three angels were there for me during my growing up years. They led me to the path where I knew I would be successful. I still have my struggles but these teachers, along with my mother, wouldn’t let my learning/reading disability become my handicap. My mom would always say, nope, you’re going to do this and you’re going to get through this.”
Turner’s principal at Kosciuszko Middle School was Mr. Villa, another major influence.
“He always used to call me ‘mijo’ [son] and give me the biggest hugs. I am tri-racial but Mr. Villa was probably the one who had me identify most with my Latino side, and really made me proud to be Mexican. I wasn’t fluent in Spanish but he would always talk to me in Spanish. He was that mentor, that Mexican principal that I just loved. He made me feel proud of my heritage.”
Turner credits his musical talent to Kosciuszko and to being in band, led by Linda Todd. She had him playing “Eye of the Tiger,” the school’s mascot song. “Ms. Todd made me believe that I could be the best saxophonist out there. I have my instruments and still play to this very day.”
More recently, Kevin credits Dr. Michele Bria from Journey House for influencing him. Journey House has a unique partnership with MPS, as it stands right next to Longfellow School. Kevin believes that Dr. Bria prepared him to be in the role that he is in right now.
“People don’t realize that it is not easy to be a leader without knowing how to manage a lot of people. I am in a unique situation where I manage the community, the board, and the staff. I am very proud to represent the largest LGBT community center in the state of Wisconsin. I’ve known Dr. Bria for 27 years but the last 12 have been working as her assistant. I felt that it was time to branch out and take on a role of leadership and here I am.”
When asked if he had a chance to speak to his fellow classmates, now alumni, what might he say to them regarding giving back to their community?
“Real simple: give back! Don’t forget your roots. I am so glad and thrilled to be able to tell my story in this capacity. It is our duty to give back. Give back not just to your community, but give back to the students—be that example, that model!”
Turner also had a message for current students about envisioning their own futures.
“Don’t let anyone define YOU. You define yourself. That has always been my drive—if you don’t define yourself, someone else will. You create the definition of who you are. There are a lot of things happening around our students today, bad influences, but there are also a lot of good things. There are a lot of great teachers that one can lean on, great administrators. Get involved.
“I was inspired to inspire my community. I really believe in Milwaukee and in public education. I know that Milwaukee Public Schools has gone through a lot of attacks but I will sit in this chair and let people know that I am a proud alumnus of Milwaukee Public Schools.”
To learn more about the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, visit the organization’s website.