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K.C. Nat Turner, Ph. D.

by: Paola Ozuna
Political Science, 2013

In 1997, K.C. Nat Turner was in Ghana studying abroad and teaching in a rural village. One day, while sitting in the home of his host family, he decided to ask the man hosting him a simple question: “If you could have anything in the world, what would you want?” The man answered, “I would like a library.” To Nat, the answer came as a surprising one. He grew up in California, where, just like in most parts of America, libraries are not a rarity. The man’s sincerity moved Nat, and after hearing that the village council had already agreed to build a library but did not have enough money to buy the books, he promised to return to Ghana with a solution. When he returned to Brown University for his undergraduate studies, he secured a grant to buy the books and went back to Ghana, where he helped build the library. The Komenda Community Library is now a vital place for the people of the village and Nat is very proud to be a part of its foundation.

Nat Turner is now an Assistant Professor at the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies in the School of Education. With the same resilience he showed when he promised a library for the village in Ghana, he has shined throughout his career as an educator and an advisor.

He grew up in Oakland, California, where he was surrounded by a family of activists and learned the importance of being an agent of change in his community. In high school, he successfully led a student movement to include classes on the history of black and brown people in the school’s curriculum. When he graduated from Brown, he went on to teach African American history at a middle school in South Central Los Angeles. After a year and a half, he moved to Cambridge, MA where he got his Master’s Degree at Harvard and then, in a pattern of continuous remarkable events, went to Japan to teach English for two years. He lived and taught in a rural village and learned to speak Japanese fluently.

After two years, he went back to California, where he worked on his doctorate at UC Berkeley. As a doctoral candidate, he became the Graduate Minority Student Project Coordinator where he was in charge of programming events for graduate students of color to create a sense of community within the institution. He was involved with student organizing and helped organize different conferences. The one he is the most proud of was a conference he created, called “Bridging the Gap: Redefining Reparations with the Hip Hop Nation.” This conference was very successful, and for four years it became a place for dialogue between African American and Civil Right activists of the Bay Area and the Hip Hop generation.

In 2008, when Nat finished his doctorate he joined UMass as a faculty member. His classes focused mainly on multicultural education, especially his course, “Hip Hop, Nation, Language and Literacy Practices.” He also instructs teachers and educational researchers on how to develop curriculum units and lessons that integrate technology in a meaningful way. He further instructs them on how to teach their own students how to carry out research projects that involve language and literacy work geared towards improving their own communities through videos or websites.

After only two years at UMass, he became the faculty advisor for Student Bridges. Student Bridges is a student-initiated outreach program that connects UMass students with local community-based organizations and schools through tutoring-mentoring partnerships, college awareness activities, and policy advocacy. The program has primarily partnered with schools and programs in the Holyoke-Springfield area.

While working with Student Bridges, he has seen the impact college students are having in these schools and how the students in these communities are being inspired to attend college and advocate for change in their communities. His hope is that programs like Student Bridges start being implemented in other universities, public and private, across the country.

Some schools are sharing this model through an event started by college students at Student Bridges called Hip Hop Revolution. This event happens twice a year and Nat has seen how it is changing the culture of these middle schools. These students now feel that they can attend college, and this is just the beginning of the process of improving their lives and communities.

After hearing Nat’s story I was very inspired by everything he has accomplished. I believe it is people who are willing to make our university and our communities a better place that keep the UMass heart beating.

At the end of the interview I asked, “What is the one thing you hope students take from you during your time as an educator?” His answer (not surprisingly) was a simple one: “I want my students to be a voice for social justice, to have the courage to stand up for what they believe, and to collaborate with those who are less privileged in order to change lives and communities.” His sincere answer reminded me a lot of the man in Ghana, and his simple dream of having a library. The man’s wish became a reality, and just like him, we can see Nat’s wish also becoming a reality as he continues to inspire students and members of the UMass community to have the courage to fight for what they believe.