Bill Turner, school board chair and Senate trailblazer, lives on, Part 5

William H. Turner was most broadly recognized as the first Black member of the Miami-Dade School Board and later as a Florida state senator— but public service was his entire life even before that.

Turner, who died in 2002, was involved with his community long before his career began to take off. Turner’s daughter, Inger York, said his selflessness was ingrained in him at a young age. Born in Overtown in 1931 and raised by his grandmother, Albertha Turner, a midwife, he developed a natural inclination toward helping people— especially kids.

York attributes Turner’s educational focus to his family, which ran a school named Turner’s Kindergarten. She said this, along with his grandmother’s influence, inspired a lifelong career that revolved primarily around childhood development and schooling.

Following work as a police officer and a public school teacher, Turner became a member of the school board in 1971. York said he would have been surprised to hear then that his legacy would live on today— nearly a decade after his death— with a vocational school and a street named after him as a tribute.

Photo and plaques of William H. Turner displayed in Room 85 of William H. Turner Technical Arts High School (Samantha Morell/SFMN)

William H. Turner Technical Arts High School in West Little River was named in 1992 by the school board. In 2004, the board voted again to honor the late school board member and senator with the designation of a portion of Northwest 103rd Street, located in the same neighborhood, as William H. Turner Memorial Boulevard.

The school board, upon proposing the designation of William H. Turner Memorial Boulevard, acknowledged him as a “lifelong advocate for children, the elderly and the disadvantaged.”

“The brainchild behind Turner Tech was that college is not for everyone,” York said, “but when you exit into the world, you need some type of education so you can work.”

This is why, she said, the school offers vocational tracks such as information technology, criminal justice, medical sciences and more. The academy model allows students to leave high school with certificates in a variety of fields, and some start their careers early on with paid internships.

At night, the school also serves as an adult education center where anybody over the age of 16 can participate in career and technical programs, including plumbing, carpentry, masonry and more. There are also opportunities for students to learn to speak, read and write English, and to prepare for their GED tests.

Principal Uwezo B. Frazier said he is honored to walk in such prestigious footsteps, and he wants to make sure that he continues to embody the work that Turner started. He said the school fulfills a serious need for low-income communities.

“I guess he felt— and we all feel— that it’s not necessarily about the mental capacity of people,” Frazier said. “It’s about the access that they have.”

His focus on education, fairness and access continued throughout Turner’s career as a senator from 1992 to 1998. According to the Florida Senate archives, the bills he proposed dealt with early childhood development, youth employment, school safety, increased funding for small businesses and environmental equity.

But Turner’s dedication to his community didn’t end when he left office. His former colleague and close friend, Thomas Cerra, remembers just how personable and accessible he was in all facets of his life.

“You couldn’t ask for a better friend,” Cerra said. “He got involved in your family. I have three kids, and they all used to call him ‘Uncle Bill’.”

Cerra, who was the director in the Office of Labor Relations for Miami-Dade County Public Schools when he met Turner in 1975, said Turner instantly became everybody’s best friend. Turner’s reach was so extensive, he said, that people from all walks of life can sometimes be seen visiting his grave at Miami City Cemetery to pay their respects.

York has also run into Turner’s former constituents from time to time. When she would go out and introduce herself as a Turner, she said, people would recognize the name and tell her stories of how her father had helped them in all kinds of ways.

“He loved human beings,” York said. “He loved life, and he loved to make a way for others.”

Cerra said Turner’s bumper sticker summed it up well. The back of Turner’s car always read, “Bill Turner helps people,” and that, Cerra said, he certainly did.

Samantha Morell loves to write, draw, take pictures, dance and travel. These are interests she aims to incorporate in her career and lifestyle. She is studying journalism and philosophy at FIU because she believes both subjects make her receptive to new information, as she hopes to always be learning.