Last Friday, I spoke to LaAndrea Turner during the Westside Health Authority’s Octoberfest celebration, held in the parking lot of the nonprofit’s Wellness Center, 4800 W. Chicago Ave. Turner, a prison evangelist and member of WHA’s Good Neighbors Campaign, recalled moving to Austin in 1979, and the beauty and struggle she’s experienced ever since.

I’ve been in Austin since 1979. I was the third American — I don’t call myself African American — who moved on my block. I’ve seen the change. The good, the bad, the ugly. And I’ve seen the falloff, where neighbors don’t know the person next door, anymore. There’s no more involvement.

When I first moved here, I lived surrounded by Caucasians. When my son graduated from grammar school, they told me he had to go to Austin. They said it was the district school for us, but I wouldn’t accept it. I went around and asked different people where their kids were going to school at and they were going to different places.

My son was the 20th African American to go to Foreman High School. Every day, we would have to pick him up in the back of the school, because there would be a mob out front. There was so much hate.

‘Love on them hard’

When my children were younger, I developed an organization called Austin Aces, because the kids would come and say, ‘Ms. Turner, there’s nothing for us to do.’ And it really wasn’t. Not for us. The police would arrest you, lock you up. That’s how it really was.

So, I started Aces — which meant that we were the best, number one — and we would hold car washes in the alley so the kids could go to places like Great America. If mothers and fathers wanted to take their kids someplace like that and they didn’t have the money for tickets, we’d work to get the money ourselves.

The kids have a chance if we give them something else than to tell them to put down the guns and drugs. We have to love on them. Don’t criticize and condemn them. Love on them hard.