Former NFL athlete gives back to communities that helped him along the way

Scott Turner, founder of Community Engagement and Opportunity Council – Photo courtesy of foundation

 

By DIANE XAVIER

The Dallas Examiner

 

Scott Turner, born and raised in Richardson, has had successful careers in the NFL, politics, business and now as a pastor and philanthropist. Currently, his mission is to give back to communities that helped him achieve success in all areas of life.

Turner, a graduate of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, earned a full academic and athletic scholarship to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1995. He also played for the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos – a total of nine years with the NFL.

“I was really fortunate and blessed to have nine years in the National Football League,” he said. “It was a great catalyst and a great platform if you will. The Lord used it to really set my life, all aspects of my life, both financial, physical, social and a spiritual community to center on a trajectory that I have been able to use to hopefully make an impact on my generation.”

Turner said he knows what it is like to have an uncertain future as a child after witnessing domestic violence.

“I grew up in a household with domestic violence and like a lot of kids, unfortunately, growing up in broken homes, coming from broken homes. And I was very blessed that the Lord gave me athletic ability, and I realized that athletic ability could take me to places that I never even imagined, along with doing well in school,” he said. “So when I was able to play football, or to run track or to play baseball, it gave me a lot of joy to be able to compete on the field, on the court but also it gave me an outlet really to utilize the energy or the emotion that I had for good. So sports has been a tremendous blessing for me, even to this day, although I am too old, I coached for a long time. But I am still involved now as a parent and as a fan of sports and so it’s always been a tremendous platform, if you will, for me both on the field and off the field.”

Despite getting a full ride to college, Turner said that playing at the college level has its own challenges as well.

“At the University of Illinois, it was really difficult to get on the field and finally in my last year in college, they switched me from offense to defense,” he said. “So it is a great life lesson to get out of your comfort zone and grow. To be challenged and so when they switched me from offense to defense, I had to learn a whole new skill set and a whole new position. And I did and so my experience from a football standpoint was one of great challenge and trial but also great life lessons and learning and growth.”

In 2012, Turner was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, representing District 33 – Rockwall County and part of Collin County. He served two terms.

He was chosen by the former president in 2019 to serve as the first executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council to help revitalize the nation’s most impoverished and distressed communities. The council was created as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 which included the Opportunity Zone initiative.

“The WHORC was a coordinating council made up of 15 domestic agencies as well as three state and regional partners,” he further explained. “The purpose of the WHORC was to streamline and coordinate and direct resources into the most underserved and distressed communities of America. In April of 2019, President Trump appointed me to be the first executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council to serve as an Ambassador for the Opportunity Zone initiative and lead the council into communities to work with local stakeholders to bring about revitalization by new job creation, new businesses, quality housing. The spirit of the law and the spirit of WHORC was economic impact as well as community impact. The initiative was a locally led and a privately driven initiative.”

Afterward, Turner established his own charitable foundation, The Community Engagement and Opportunity Council, to invest in and empower the tens of millions of children living in poverty throughout the country.

He chose Dallas as the first test market for CEOC.

“We want to start right here in our backyard, and we want to do an excellent job and make a tremendous impact. Then from there, we want to expand to other communities where the need is, and to partner with people in those communities, and to attack the need that’s there. To come up with strategies and plans to best benefit that community. That’s what CEOC is all about. Using our three pillars of sports, mentorship, economic opportunity and take those two communities to join in with the people that are already there. And see how we can support and make their initiatives better and to benefit the people inside of those neighborhoods,” Turner stated.

The first community project he and his team completed was the renovated Literacy Lab in Bonton in Southern Dallas. Turner was motivated to invest in the project after working with BridgeBuilders, a Christ centered ministry in South Dallas organized to empower families and restore relationships. It was founded 20 years ago by Mike Fechner, who lost his battle to cancer in 2014. His son, Jonathan Fechner, serves as the executive director.

“They work right inside of the Bonton community,” Turner said. “When I went down to take a tour, I was asking them, well, what do you do inside of the literacy lab? What is the goal and the vision of the literacy lab? They taught me about the activities of the kids and how the kids come in, they learn how to read, they learn phonics, they learn different types of activities.”

Then he said they told him about older children that come in reading at a low reading level. He gave the example of a fifth-grade students reading at a first-grade level.

“Well, that’s unacceptable,” Turner remembered telling them. He said he then sat down with BridgeBuilders to discuss the needs of the lab.

“They told me they need new technology, they need shelves for the kids, new carpet and things of that nature,” Turner recalled. “So our foundation … purchased brand new technology by way of tablets for the literacy lab, we built permanent furniture. As far as shelves for the books to be saved, we built a treehouse for the kids to sit in and to read with one another and to one another. We replaced the carpet, that’s brand-new carpet. So now, it is a comfortable place that has new books, new shelves, a new environment for the kids to come in and mentors of volunteers that come in and read with the children.”

Currently, phase one of the Literacy Lab in Bonton is in place and includes the Lexia program where students can engage in reading lessons weekly during after-school programs. Phase two is also launching this fall with the help of DISD literacy specialists.

Turner stated that he also started his foundation based on his spiritual beliefs as well.

“We started this foundation to make an impact inside of underserved, distressed communities across our country. The three pillars that we want to work in are sports, mentorship and economic opportunity. And the reason why we chose those three pillars is because those are the areas the Spirit of Influence that I have been able to be involved in over the last 25, 30 years. What sports has done for me as a young man in my life, even as an adult, I want to share that with young people across the country. And not just being able to play sports but also the business of sports, because often times kids say I want to be a professional athlete. I want to play professional football, professional basketball, but what our aim is to teach kids is that, that is an admirable dream. But also, outside of an athlete that plays the sport, you can learn the business of sport and build a tremendous career.

“The mentorship aspect is to give kids exposure by way of internships, apprenticeships, to work with businesses, work with companies, help them to learn new skills sets, or identify a skill set maybe they didn’t even realize that they had and then train them in the workforce. The economic opportunity is financial literacy and is set up as a passway to be successful and to utilize the talents that they have.”

Turner summarized his goals and why he had to lead the way in helping those less fortunate than him.

“To change the mentality from hopeless to hopeful, to take a conversation from I can’t do anything, I can’t get out of bed, to I have a great skill set so I have an opportunity,” he said. “I chose the Bonton community because I wanted to utilize the platform, voice and gifts the Lord has given me to serve the people of Texas. To be an ambassador and a representative of the people is a tremendous calling – one thing that I took very seriously and did my best to do with a spirit of humility and with the utmost integrity.”

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