From housing insecure to helping others become homeowners
As a part of her role as Chief Program Officer for Habitat for Humanity Twin Cities, Shereese Turner seeks to advance Black homeownership. She brings that same concern to the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity’s Community Well-Being pillar. Here, in her own words, she speaks about the road she’s traveled, and why it makes her so well-suited to the work she does.
After two decades in Corporate America, I started my non-profit career in 2007 at Twin Cities RISE. It was by far the hardest, most rewarding work I’ve ever done.
As a coach and mentor, I refused to just go through the motions. If I told you I was going to show up, I would show up and give it everything I had, but I also looked to you to show up and give it everything you had to get you and your family to a better place. That’s why people said: “Shereese don’t play.”
Leading with empathy came out of my own personal experiences. For many years before I remarried, I was a single mom raising three kids. It was a struggle to get my life together and create stability for my family. Housing was a major issue. One of the places we lived during those rocky times was the emergency shelter at St. Anne’s Place, run by Haven Housing.
Today I’m chair of the board at Haven Housing and passionate about the work they do because they had my back. I also served on the board for several years at Bridging Inc., which helped me furnish my first apartment.
I continue to partner with the non-profit organizations that were there for me when I needed it most. I share my expertise, drop off food and diapers, or offer a word of encouragement.
A meal on the table
Nikki Robertson is a young woman I connected with when she came to Twin Cities RISE after Hurricane Katrina. She was dealing with her own trauma, living in a shelter, and in need of career training. I took her under my wing. Nikki became not only my mentee, but my little sis.
When she got on her feet, she walked in one day and I could tell things were coming together for her. She said, “Hey Ms. Shereese!” I could see how happy she was, and it was a reminder of why I was called to this work.
Nikki has had ups and downs, but she’s got her kids with her, gone back to school, and become a manager at a facility where she once got treatment.
Along the way, I’ve always reminded her, “If you run into a little snag, don’t hesitate to call me.” Then one day, two days before Thanksgiving, her car broke down and she called me. She didn’t ask for anything, but I sensed there was a reason she was telling me about her car. I said, “What’s your Cash App? Because what you’re not going to do is you’re not going to have Thanksgiving without a meal on your table.” So, I sent her the money to make sure that was covered. Among the success stories, she’s one person who really stands out for me.
MBCRE and community well-being
I co-lead MBCRE’S Community Well-Being Pillar. A secure home is an important component of being safe in one’s community.
Public Safety should be a priority for all of us. We have all borne witness to the devastation that’s happened over the years when citizens are not only unsafe, but are murdered at the hands of those who are sworn to serve and protect them.
That’s why, as MBCRE co-chair, I’ve encouraged MBCRE members to offer the TurnSignl app within their organizations. TurnSignl can get an attorney on the line immediately during a police stop to provide support and guidance, which can be a form of de-escalation and a life saver. We’ve made the app available to our local Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity workforce.
‘Always trying to get stuff’
When I think about community well-being, I sometimes reflect on what happened to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the 1920s. That was a thriving, self-sufficient community known as Black Wall Street, and it’s painful to know that it was destroyed. The pathology of that.
In many ways we’re still dealing with what’s been stolen from us. I had an “ah ha moment” not long ago. I was trying to understand why I was always trying to get stuff. I was reliving my childhood again. I loved Minnie Mouse; I collect Minnie Mouses. My husband collects gym shoes.
Sometimes I’m like, “How much of this stuff can we buy?” But when you grow up not having had a whole lot, you may be trying to fill that hole with gold jewelry, Minnie Mouses, gym shoes, etc. It can be ingrained in us to spend and be consumers. But unlike homes, many of the things we buy are not real investments that have lasting value.
That kind of thinking goes way back for me. I was raised by a mom and dad who didn’t have means. My dad never had a bank account, so I didn’t know anything about banking. I had to catch up. I was a grown woman with children before I figured that out. I made a lot of mistakes. I had to find resources I could tap into such as Pillsbury United Communities and financial workshops, where I learned to understand budgeting, saving and credit and all of that. So, when I see the MBCRE offering a webinar to make the connection between financial wellness and social justice, or its Deposit Challenge with First Independence Bank to bring much-needed resources into our community, I know the value of that.
I feel so fortunate to be on this side of the struggle. To offer my children stability that I didn’t have growing up. It’s allowed them to build healthy relationships and to blossom. Now all three of my children are homeowners and living their best lives.