Obituary: Bernadette Turner / Strong, young voice in black community

Aug. 7, 1971 - Dec. 26, 2013

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Bernadette Turner was one of few young African-American voices being heard in Pittsburgh when she died the day after Christmas at age 42.

The tributes rained on social media among friends and associates, from her childhood, from Homewood, where she had been a community advocate, from members of boards she served on and from colleagues.

The executive director of Addison Behavioral Health, Ms. Turner of Lincoln-Lemington was diagnosed with lymph cancer in 2008 but told few people and worked through it until the past three months, when she worked from home by conference call.

"We were looking forward to our 25th [high school] reunion next year," said Kiva Fisher Green, who became fast friends with Ms. Turner when they started ninth grade at Perry Traditional Academy. "I talked to her every day until I left Pittsburgh" 18 months ago to study at Clark University in Atlanta.

Ms. Green organized the funeral from Georgia and said she will return to Pittsburgh in May to help Ms. Turner's family.

"People say I am doing a great thing, but this is about the love of friendship," Ms. Green said. "She was loyal, loyal, loyal. I'm just paying our friendship forward."

She said that one day shortly before Christmas in 2005, a man broke into the store where she was working and beat her and sexually assaulted her. When he left, she ran to call the police and then she called Ms. Turner.

"She was on her way to go Christmas shopping and dropped everything for the next two days to sit in my room with me because I was too traumatized to come out," Ms. Green said. "It is my hope that both of our children are watching and learning what it is to be a friend."

Among the boards Ms. Turner sat on, she co-chaired the Dignity and Respect Campaign of Greater Pittsburgh.

Candi Castleberry Singleton, the chief inclusion and diversity officer for UPMC, invited her to sit on UPMC's Board Diversity and Inclusion Committee because of her emerging voice and because she acted on problems she identified.

"Pittsburgh has lost a blossoming, fearless, and forthright leader," Ms. Singleton wrote in a Facebook tribute. "Tell Sojourner, Martin, [and] Mandela that you, too, fought a good fight in Pittsburgh, for African-Americans, for access to services, for fairness, and dignity and respect for all."

Ms. Singleton said Ms. Turner helped her build her own community when the former moved to Pittsburgh six years ago. They were in a group of friends that regularly met as the Power and Joy sisterhood, each participating in the others' projects on a rotation.

In 2009, Ms. Turner co-founded the African American Leadership Association with Darcel Madkins to match mentors to young black professionals. She started that, Ms. Singleton said, "because she saw there was a void. Instead of just saying 'Here's a gap,' she fixed it.

"There are so few voices for African-American people in Pittsburgh, and she was a voice for her own and all generations. She is one of those people who would have been doing this work for the rest of her life. She made an amazing contribution to the city."

Tuarone Thomas, building administrator and project manager at Addison Behavioral Health, said Ms. Turner was "an advocate for the community, to make it better and safer and to sustain people in being independent and drug free. She felt like she had a mission to help families come together and be holistic."

Ms. Turner was the project director at the East Side Community Collaborative in Homewood before joining Addison's staff. In 2010, she made Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP's "40 under 40" list of young leaders in the city.

In the "40 Under 40" video, Ms. Turner described her mother as a nurse with an incredible work ethic that rubbed off on her.

With friends, she enjoyed shopping, salsa lessons, special days at the spa, shared dinners and conversations about changing the world.

Ms. Turner is survived by her husband, Sean Turner, and their children, Citara and Sean Turner Jr.; her parents, Gloria and William Bey; and her sister, Zee Bey. She is interred at Allegheny Cemetery.

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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