Khary Turner, Executive Director of the Coleman A. Young Foundation

hary Turner's career has come full circle.

After years in the college realm, Turner is happy his professional orbit has him back in the nonprofit world where he's able to see the positive impact he's making on the lives of others every day.

As Executive Director for the Coleman A. Young Foundation (CAYF), Turner oversees an operation doing tangible, results-oriented work to assist Detroit youth in overcoming great obstacles to attend college and pursue a better life.

"When people ask me what we do, I tell them that, long-term, we create a homegrown leadership talent pool for Detroit," Turner says.

The official mission of the CAYF is to develop leadership among youth through college scholarships, mentoring and other support for personal growth and development.

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The CAYF scholarship program provides significant financial support up to $20,000 to Detroit students who otherwise would not be able to attend college, Turner explains. In its 33 years of existence, the foundation has awarded approximately $5 million to almost 500 students.

"These are young people who are often the first in their families to go to college," Turner says. "They've experienced significant hardship or grown up very close to it."

Upon earning a CAYF scholarship, after going through the program's rigorous four-part application process, foundation scholars can count on regular mentoring from foundation staff and program alumni.

"This is a requirement of the scholarship," Turner notes. "And we're talking old-fashioned, hands-on mentoring."

This can include phone calls and outreach to scholarship recipients via their social media channels.

"It also often entails someone from CAYF literally getting in their car and driving to campus to check in on someone," he says.

The fruits of Turner and his team's labors are well worth the effort. The college graduation rate for CAYF scholars has held steady at 91 percent for the past 20 years.

"Sixty percent of our graduates return to live and work in Detroit," Turner adds with pride. "Our scholars are prepared to jump into parts of the workforce driving Detroit today."

While scholarships and mentoring are the centerpieces of the foundation's work, they're far from the only CAYF programs helping Detroit kids thrive.

In 1999, the foundation launched a program now known as REAL Skills 2.0.

"Some of our CAYF alumni founded the program," Turner says. "They observed that it would have been helpful to have something in place to engage them and other kids before college to help them get ready."

The REAL Skills 2.0 program is free to students ages 11 to 18 years old and focuses on communication and life skills development.

"As part of the program, we tour colleges with the kids, and we talk with them about how to deal with issues they face at school like bullying," Turner explains. "We also touch on rapport with civic authorities, aka police."

More recently, the REAL Skills 2.0 program has grown to include a mind, body and spirit component.

"We focus on decision-making, health and nutrition, and education," Turner explains. "For example, many Detroit kids are used to eating food bought at a gas station food mart. We teach them how to cook with fruits and vegetables. We take them on a farm field trip. We introduce them to urban gardening."

The education component focuses on, among other things, how to fill out college applications and college scholarship applications.

"Many kids are afraid to complete the required essays," he says. "As a result, they avoid the entire scholarship application process. I think it's criminal that 65 percent of scholarship dollars are left on the table."

Turner seems perfectly suited for his role with the CAYF having held public relations roles with nonprofits including the United Way Community Services and the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Agency early in his career. Later, he taught in the honors college at Oakland University and held education leadership roles with the University of Phoenix and Corinthian Colleges.

In 2011, Turner found himself contemplating his career direction and realized he felt a calling to return to the nonprofit sector.

"I love it," he says. "Working with the CAYF is one of my two areas of passion, the other being as a performance artist."

Turner is an active member of the poetry and hip-hop communities in Detroit, previously serving as lead singer of the Black Bottom Collective. He is also a well-known figure on the slam and spoken word poetry circuits.

"I believe that my involvement with the CAYF is the contribution I am supposed to make to the world," Turner says. "I think it's no mistake that my son was born after 18 years of marriage and after I made the commitment to the CAYF and helping young people."

Content to be out of the "rat race" and fulfilling his life's calling, Turner is paying it forward.

"If you do the work the universe wants you to do, then the universe pays you back."

Apply for the Coleman A. Young Foundation Scholarship

Students interested in applying for the 2016 Coleman A. Young Foundation Scholars Program can view and download the scholarship application form beginning Jan. 1 at CAYF.org. The application is accessible under the "Scholars" tab on the foundation's homepage. The application deadline is March 16. Those with questions about the application process are encouraged to call the foundation at 313-962-2200.

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