Turner Sworn in As First Black President of Youngstown Rotary

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — On July 8, during its weekly meeting, the Rotary Club of Youngstown swore in Samantha Turner as its new president. Turner is the sixth woman and first African-American to be elected president of the club in its 105-year history.

Turner’s family and friends joined Rotarians who packed one of the gathering rooms at Cassese’s MVR downtown for the event — masks were worn by all except during lunch or while speaking. Turner, who serves as councilwoman of Youngstown’s third ward, joined Rotary in August 2012 and was sponsored by Elayne Bozick, a past president and current board member. In her time with the club, Turner has been involved in multiple committees, including Operation Warm and Put Kids First, which was the first committee she joined and was welcomed “with open arms,” she said.

Through Put Kids First, she built a three-year relationship with her mentee, who Turner continued to get to know as a board member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Youngstown.

“That relationship that I have with her and her parents really helped me see what ‘service above self’ was,” Turner said. “Rotary Club has opened opportunities for me to grow, learn and become a better friend, professional, mother and now public servant.”

As president, Turner plans to make education her top priority, particularly in the Youngstown City School District and its students.

“As you know, in order for our city to grow, we must have a robust and thriving school district. And I believe that as a club, we have the ability to make an impact,” she said. “This might seem like a massive task. But we will all take it one meeting at a time, one conversation at a time, one action at a time.”

Through its efforts, she says the club will support mothers and children by working with the area’s health department “to ensure mothers have access to proper education” or child care. She addressed the possibility of working with local mentorship organizations for women to become business owners.

Samantha Turner addresses those gathered during Wednesday’s Rotary meeting.

Turner also aims to increase the diversity of the club “by learning from and engaging with people of different professions, from different cultures and different schools of thought,” she said. By turning the members’ attention inward, Turner hopes to identify what keeps Rotary from being a more diverse club, “while asking the question and seeking the answer to ‘How do we get to the level of diversity that reflects the community we serve?’ “

By broadening the club’s reach and growth, it will create more opportunities for more residents to assume leadership roles in the community, she said. It will also work to raise awareness in the community about initiatives locally and globally, including its work with the Boys and Girls Clubs, renovation efforts for the Wick Park Pavilion, its support of its sister club in the Philippines and its dialysis center, and its efforts to support the end of polio, she said.

“It’s all vital information and key to helping the community understand that we are the change, and us as Rotarians are people of action,” she said. “[Rotary Club founder] Paul Harris said ‘We have to do revolutionary things from time to time.’ And now it is time to be revolutionary.”

Other officers sworn in during Wednesday’s meeting include new President-elect Joshua Prest, Vice President Bob Calvert, Secretary Deanna Rossi and Treasurer George Nelson.

Turner’s installment as president is a happy day for Bozick, who sponsored her entry into the club.

“I’ve been waiting for this day,” Bozick says. “When I met her, she seemed to be a Rotarian to me. All the ideals of Rotary, all the objectives of Rotary – she was just that type of soul.”

Bozick characterizes Turner as loving, patient and kind, and is passionate about Youngstown and her community, she said.

“She’s good at everything she does. We need more people like her,” Bozick said.

As the first black president of the club, Bozick says Turner “sets a very good example” for how to get beyond barriers and work with others. “Because she’s intelligent and open to people, people respond to her that way,” she said.

Being able to work with a diverse group of people is core to Rotary, Bozick said, beginning with founder Harris’ goal of working with individuals from different professions and demographics in the community. It’s a philosophy that she says could benefit all residents in the city.

Turner is joined by officers for 2021 (from left) Treasurer George Nelson, Secretary Deanna Rossi and President-elect Joshua Prest. Not pictured is Vice President Bob Calvert.

When Turner joined the club, she “jumped right in” to help where she could, adds board member Scott Schulick. That approach endeared her to the membership by living up to the “service above self” motto, he said.

Schulick says Turner is a “natural born leader” who isn’t afraid to show her initiative and is able to connect with people “almost at their first meeting with her.” That ability is what prompted the club’s membership to begin electing Turner to various officer positions five years ago, he said.

As president, Schulick says Turner will lead the club forward, particularly with regard to her focus on education, which has been a focus of the club for much of its existence, Schulick said.

In 1996, the club launched Put Kids First to start conversations about how to strengthen city schools, said Scott Schulick, board member. Club members attended board meetings, led community conversations and adopted Harding Elementary School, where the club has built a playground, managed a mentoring program for 18 years and purchased pieces of equipment for the school, among other initiatives.

“We’re going to continue a long-standing commitment to the city schools under Samantha’s leadership,” he said. “I think what Samantha is going to do is raise the bar and take us to the next level of our involvement with the city schools.”

Turner’s election to president comes at “a poignant time” in history, he said. From the Black Lives Matter movement being re-energized in the wake of George Floyd’s killing while in the custody of police to the rebuke of monuments associated with slavery, including the Confederate flag, the significance of her installment as club president is not lost on Schulick.

While the club’s membership has included black residents going back 35 years, he said, Turner’s rise to leadership “just happens to be in the right place at the right moment in our nation’s history, and I think it’s terrific.

“I don’t think it could have happened at a better time than today, given all the challenges that we face as a nation right now,” he said.

Outside of Rotary, Turner is actively involved in her community and serves as steward of the Fairgreen Neighborhood Garden. She is also involved with the Ebony Ladies Golf and Youth Foundation, for which she has written more than $150,000 in grants.

She currently lives in Youngstown’s Crandall Park Neighborhood with her three-year-old son.

Pictured at top: Youngstown Rotary board member Elayne Bozick swears in the club’s new president Samantha Turner. Bozick was Turner’s sponsor for joining the club in 2012.

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