Greg Evans, director of African-American student programs at Lane, calls her “a woman who inspires action.” Matt Keating, a member of the Lane Board of Education, calls her “a champion of labor and women’s health rights.” She is president of the political action committee Our Revolution, as well as a former Ohio state senator, Cleveland city councilwoman and college professor.
But Nina Turner has never believed her own hype.
As the keynote speaker at Lane’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration on Jan. 17, Turner gave a speech honoring the legacy of Dr. King. Over 200 people turned out to the event, which was held in the Konnie Conference Center at the Center for Meeting and Learning on campus. The speech, which lasted just over an hour and got numerous standing ovations also touched on the importance of greater access to higher education and community activism.
After being greeted by a thunderous standing ovation, Turner began her speech by praising Lane President Margaret Hamilton for her commitment to the tenets of “access, equality and inclusion” at the college. Turner shared her own experiences as a student at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, where she initially struggled academically.
“I had a negative GPA at one point,” Turner recalled during her speech. “But I came full circle and eventually became the first member of my family to get a degree. I am living testimony to the effect of community college.”
Turner also reflected on her experience at Cuyahoga Community College in an interview with The Torch after her speech.
“It wasn’t until I joined a speech club at Tri-C that I began to develop my speaking style,” Turner said. “I also wrote for the school paper, The Mosaic, and eventually became the editor, which gave me a hunger for justice and the truth.”
Equality, social justice and oppression were prevailing themes throughout the evening. During her speech, Turner called on the audience to understand that the fight for equality is not over. She cited the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan as evidence of the continuing oppression of African-American communities that Dr. King fought to overcome. She drew parallels between the Rev. King’s views on injustice in healthcare and the current state of healthcare in the country.
“If Dr. King were alive today, I believe he would stand in support of Measure 101,” Turner said, to which the crowd exploded with cheers and applause.
When asked about how the message of Dr. King aligns with the goals of Our Revolution, Turner responded excitedly.
“Our Revolution absolutely carries on King’s legacy. We fight against income inequality, we support Medicaid-for-all, and we are bringing to life the grassroots of America. These are all things Rev. King fought and died for, so we are continuing his fight.”
The audience responded positively to Turner’s energy and enthusiasm, especially as she descended from the stage and marched through the aisles. Her motivational speaking skills were on display as she repeatedly encouraged the crowd to make their voices heard in the community.
“We want an America as good as its promise!” Turner exclaimed to another round of applause.
Turner concluded her speech with a call to action for those in attendance. “We can’t just tweet support anymore,” Turner said. “There’s been enough talk, it’s time for action.” Those words had barely left her mouth before she was given another generous standing ovation.
Audience members took this message of love and activism to heart.
“That was one of the most moving speeches I’ve heard in years,” said Rebecca Bradvica, a Eugene resident, in the lobby outside the Konnie Conference Center. “I was in tears.”
“She’s such a great speaker,” added Michael Brennan, who is in Eugene to work on a political campaign. “Her speeches remind me of Dr. King himself.”
After her speech, Turner held a short Q&A with audience members, many of whom raced to the two microphones to seize the opportunity to be the first to ask the question on everyone’s mind.
“Will you being running for office in 2020?”
According to Turner, she currently has no plans to run for public office.