DETROIT — When Charlene Turner-Johnson took a leave of absence from her job as a teacher at Detroit Public Schools more than 40 years ago, little did she know it would eventually take her down a new path.
While away from the classroom, Turner-Johnson said she joined a group of women at Twelfth Street Baptist Church who wanted to start a food program designed to assist senior citizens.
“I had an educational background in food and nutrition, so I volunteered to start that,” Turner-Johnson said. “Then after starting a summer youth program, I entered the church office and began working as an administrative assistant. That helped me learn there were opportunities for churches to get grants.”
Turner-Johnson has dedicated her life to leading neighborhood and faith-based community development initiatives. And because of her tireless efforts to uplift the community, the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and Comerica Bank are celebrating Turner-Johnson as the second Women’s History Month Game Changers honoree.
Turner-Johnson currently serves as the volunteer president and CEO of B.A.S.S., Inc. (Building Assets to Strengthen Society), a non-profit organization that focuses on advancing youth development and socio-economic empowerment.
“Learning Charlene’s incredible story of dedicating her life to serving others in Detroit, we’re thrilled to celebrate her as a Game Changers honoree,” said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “Charlene’s ongoing work throughout the city is helping countless people of all ages reach their full potential.”
For Turner-Johnson, who is a Highland Park, Mich., native, the opportunity to “renovate, restore and rebuild” her community is gratifying.
“It’s been great,” Turner-Johnson said. “A lot of people know me, and I know a lot of people, so those good relationships have been very helpful over the years. It feels good to help the city move forward by becoming not what it was but becoming a place where people can thrive.”
Turner-Johnson said B.A.S.S., Inc. supports the implementation of My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which was launched by former U.S. President Barack Obama, as a pathway for youth development.
“I think we’ve been successful at helping other people understand they have assets and capabilities,” Turner-Johnson said. “That’s significant because then they can go on to improve their lives and the lives of their family and community members.”
Founded in 2006, B.A.S.S., Inc. also operates as a business incubator that provides space and support for local entrepreneurs.
“We’ve had young adults start their businesses, eventually expand and move on to other venues,” Turner-Johnson said. “It’s all about helping people see the possibilities and opportunities by working towards them.”
And while she’s honored to serve her community, Turner-Johnson, who still lives in Highland Park, said there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“There’s been a lot of abandonment and disinvestment,” Turner-Johnson said. “So to help residents know that we have assets and have value is important. We want to collaborate and work together to really improve the quality of life here.”
When looking ahead to the future, Turner-Johnson said it’s important to appreciate the past.
“I’m able to manage the personal problems that I have encountered because I am so engrossed in other peoples’ issues,” Turner-Johnson said. “That takes my attention away.”
She paused for a moment, then laughed.
“Being involved simply by helping other people actually is my coping mechanism.”