Celebrating Fontana Activist Jessie Turner
By Timothy Lewis
Jessie M. Turner was a Fontana community activist, whose work during the late 1960’s to the 1980’s forever transformed the predominantly Black, north side of the city of Fontana.
Born in New Orleans in 1917, Jessie Turner moved to Fontana in 1965. Within her time in California, Turner provided safe spaces for the members of her community by establishing the Concerned Citizens for the Development of North Fontana. The non-profit organization provided productive activities for the community, advocated for social change as well as helped with employment and housing assistance for its immediate residents.
From the Concerned Citizens of North Fontana grew other coalitions in which Turner led and organized. The North Fontana Culinary Program, the Fontana Messenger, and the Black Awareness Parade Committee were all offspring of Turner’s combined efforts. The Black Awareness Parade is still annually held, 54 years and running. In 1970 the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors adopted North Fontana as the North Fontana Parks and Recreation District, and in doing so also appointed members of the Black Awareness Parade Committee as District Commissioners, with Turner holding a chairman seat until the time of her passing.
Her daughter Ellen Turner hated the fact her mother was always working and after losing her mother in her early 20’s, Ellen believed that work stress killed her mother and wished to be nothing like Jessie Turner. Ellen now heads operations for the Concerned Citizens Organization today, she is also President of the Black Awareness Parade Committee as well as serving as president for the NAACP Rialto/ Fontana Chapter. In her free time she works towards finding housing and other resources for homeless individuals. Ellen remembers from a young age, falling asleep during the supervisor board meetings her mother would drag her and her brother to.
To remember the titan that Jessie Turner was, the city of Fontana constructed the Jessie Turner Center as a hub for the community to turn to for resources and productive activities. Ms. Turner believed strongly that a little elbow grease could take you a long way, “We the willing, led by the unknowing are doing the impossible.”. The annual theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Health and Wellness.” The willingness Jessie Turner had to better the lives of her neighbors showed just how powerful an impact one individual can make and this February we celebrate her life and her advocacy for the health and wellness of her community.