Isabel’s Interview with Tyshawn

Tyshawn Harris Turner is an African American woman who was born in Germany and moved to the United States with her family when she was only seven years of age. She is now a mother and currently works as a site secretary at a school. She grew up as an “army brat” and moved to lots of different locations and has held many intriguing job titles such as being a 911 dispatcher. 

“I mean I can remember probably moving three or four times between 2nd and 5th grade. It was hard making friends.” Tyshawn says as she remembers moving around the United States at a very young age.  

Growing Up 

Tyshawn grew up in Germany until the age of seven, which is when her and her family made the move to the U.S. Tyshawn and her family were stationed in Germany due to her parents being in the military. She describes herself as an “Army Brat.” Tyshawn mentions that where she was located in Germany was surprisingly racially diverse, from what she remembers. She mentions that when she first made the move to the United States, she was a Black girl who spoke German which made it extremely difficult for her to make friends. Tyshawn lived in many southern states such as Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas. Being a young Black girl in southern states made her early school years very difficult and she faced lots of racism and discrimination from teachers and her peers. This experience that Tyshawn had when mentioning how difficult it was for her to adapt to life in the south as a young Black girl connects to the Ted Talk, we watched in class titled, “Call Me by My Name, Not My Stereotype.” This idea that systems are rooted in the exclusion of someone else’s identity.  

“We went to Oklahoma and Alabama and Texas and I can just remember being miserable. That was from 1st grade to 5th grade, not very accepting by teachers and other kids it was really hard.” 

Tyshawn mentions how the schools down in the southern states she lived in were predominantly white. She mentions that the teachers were cold towards her and the students were very unwelcoming due to her being African American. Tyshawn only mentions one time that she ever felt acceptance from a teacher was in 4th grade. 

“When I was in 4th grade that was the first time that I encountered a teacher that was a little welcoming and really made the effort to make me feel welcome. I don’t remember her name but I know it was as I got older, so, I want to say like 4th grade she had us do a play about the tooth fairy and she gave me the main role.” 

Early Career Life 

Tyshawn became a mother at only twenty years old. She was living with her mother at the time who was a highway dispatcher and a single mom. Tyshawn did a lot of the cooking and cleaning in her home as well as taking care of her brother, because her mom worked frequently. Tyshawn became a 911 dispatcher when she was around thirty years old. Tyshawn says that in order to become a dispatcher she went through Napa College’s Academy for Dispatchers and then embarked on a six-month rigorous process in order to get the job.  

“You know when you go through the Academy, they do simulation phone calls where you’re like OK… you know… but when you actually get a phone call of a woman screaming saying you know my husband is hitting me or someone panicking and saying they can’t find their kid. It’s totally different than when you’re in the Academy because it’s a real… it’s really happening it’s in progress as we used to say.” 

Tyshawn mentions that there was significant racial diversity amongst the dispatchers but not within the officers. Tyshawn says that most of the officers were either White or Hispanic. This relates back to the article “Black women workers are essential during the crisis and for the recovery but still are greatly underpaid.” The article states, “On an average hourly basis, Black women are paid just 66 cents on the dollar relative to non-Hispanic white men with the same level of education, age (a proxy for work experience), and geographic location.” Although Tyshawn was not working as a 911 dispatcher in the middle of the pandemic and her annual salary was not mentioned, when she brought up the clear lack of diversity among officers the first thing that I could think about was the system in place and how critical the work was that Tyshawn was doing as a dispatcher was but also how she might have not been getting paid as much as her male or white counterparts because historically that tends to be the case.  

Present Day Life 

Tyshawn now works as a site secretary at a school in Northern California. Tyshawn mentions that when she first began working at the school she is at now, she noticed a serious lack of racial diversity amongst the students and faculty. She mentions that as her time working at Davis has progressed, she has noticed slightly more racial diversity. 

“…Before I came to Davis, I was like good Davis is going to be so diverse and when you get out here it’s not you know aside from the college not really in the school that I saw. Now I see a little bit more like diversity people coming from Sacramento, Woodland it’s getting a little better.” 

Tyshawn follows up that statement saying that if you don’t travel around to other schools it is rare that you are going to find someone that looks like you. Tyshawn being one of few African American faculty members as well as being a woman made me look back on a lesson about employment discrimination and the microaggressions made towards Black women in the work force. Two of the microaggressions being that Black women hear the most surprise expressed at their capabilities and that Black women are more criticized for their appearance not being professional. These are extremely insulting microaggressions that are made towards Black women in the workforce. 

Tyshawn has spent her lifetime working in careers that help her community and the people around her. I asked Tyshawn out of my own interest what the greatest thing she learned from working these jobs were. Tyshawn tells a story of how she received a phone call as a 911 dispatcher about a woman complaining about a group of Hispanic and Black men standing outside of her house doing nothing. The woman attacked Tyshawn verbally saying that it was ridiculous that she couldn’t send officers over.  

“I wanted to say “look lady” but professionally I was like okay, don’t take it personal. She doesn’t even know you are black… Yeah, so I think that you know being patient and not taking anything personal.” 

Tyshawn is an extremely inspiring and powerful African-American woman. Her advice and stories were absolutely captivating to listen to.

If you would like to hear Tyshawn speak for herself there is an audio recording that is linked right here.