Philly Rising: How Sharmain Matlock-Turner uses connections and opportunities to tackle poverty

Antionette Lee
February 21, 2020 - 6:30 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — For 20 years, Sharmain Matlock-Turner has been a driving force behind one of Philadelphia’s most impactful organizations that tackles one of the city’s largest problems: poverty. 

As the leader of the Urban Affairs Coalition — and the first woman to do so — Matlock-Turner has helped families by creating opportunities for Philadelphians who need them through building connections between local government, businesses and neighborhoods. 

Sharmain Matlock-Turner
Antionette Lee/KYW Newsradio

“I’ve been really focused on the fact of really saying to policymakers and anyone who will listen — it's not 25%, it’s 400,000 people, 400,000 people in our community are in need of support and a bridge and a way to move to a better place,” she said.

From matching more than a thousand teens in the city with paid employment opportunities during the summer to helping shape public policy and sponsoring programs that respond to the urgent needs of the community, Matlock-Turner has come a long way from her first job: picking peaches. 

“I tell people all the time, look, I'm a little girl from West Philly who's really just tried to do really important things and really right things,” she said. 

She was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. A divorce between her parents brought her to Philadelphia, but in the summer as a child, Matlock-Turner would return to her rural roots.  

“It was really a way to sort of grow and expand and see that the world was bigger. I got my first job there picking peaches, which is why I'm such a big, big, big proponent of youth having jobs,” she explained. 

That broader world view helped her see the balance between rural and city life, as well as the value in connecting with the community.

“I believe that it's important that people know that you see them — not necessarily what they're wearing or what they do, but that you see them,” she said. 

Which is why Matlock-Turner says anyone can make a difference, wherever they are. 

“That’s why we try to touch people every day. Tomorrow is not promised and you never know that one thing that you've connected someone to or an idea,” she said.

“We've got a lot of big stuff to do, but in the end, it's about the person I'm talking to today, the person I'm sitting across the table from. Never, ever lose sight of that,” she continued. 

Last year, under her leadership, UAC raised almost $500,000 towards strengthening communities. Matlock-Turner says she finds success by focusing on the work and how she can fix the problems. 

“I get up in the morning, when I say my morning prayer and I say, you know, God what am I supposed to accomplish today? What am I supposed to do? Why am I here? And I try every day to try to find an answer,” she said. 

So, what's in the future for the UAC? She says her team is building partnerships for a campaign with a goal of "full employment" for teenagers in Philadelphia. 

"We want every teen, every summer, to be able to have a summer experience that helps them build their resume and to put them on a track for a career."

In her free time Matlock-Turner says she enjoys music, being with her grandson Joshua, and fishing.