The Turning Point: Austin’s Nook Turner Jumps Back On It

Photo by Stephanie Devon Warren
It's clear to anyone who has lived in Austin for the past few years that it is growing and changing, especially Austin's Eastside.  For a homegrown Austinite, it can almost look foreign in its entirety.  Native Austinite Charles “Nook” Turner saw this change coming for many years prior, and is still doing his part to keep his neighborhood alive.

Nook started Jump On It – an organization to unite the Eastside community through entertainment – in 1996. Once known as the Top Urban Outdoor Event in Texas, Jump On It returned to Austin this summer, Wednesdays between June 22 and Aug. 10, from 12 to 10 p.m., at Givens Park. Nook kicked the summer off with a free barbecue, and each week has featured a new theme, like Beach Night, most recently on July 27, Sports Night, and the upcoming Old School Night.

“To me, first of all, [gentrification in Austin] is not a surprise because Miss T was saying this in the 90s that [the City of Austin] has a 50-year plan they’re working on to extend downtown to Airport and to move us out.  So since 15 and 16 years old, I’ve already seen this coming.  That was one reason I felt Jump On It is so important because it would help reestablish the community,” Nook says.

“Miss T” is Austin activist and organizer, the late and great Dorothy Turner, who mentored Nook early on. “The first motto of Jump On It was ‘Reclaim Your Thang.’  Reclaim your parks.  Reclaim your neighborhood.  Reclaim the youth.  Reclaim our part in the city,” Nook says.

Reclaim your parks.  Reclaim your neighborhood.  Reclaim the youth.

Inspired by Dorothy and slave-rebellion leader Nat Turner, Nook adopted the last name as his own. First and foremost a renowned musician himself (Future 500 Magazine dubbed him a Top 25 Under 25), Nook intends revolution and progress with every song.  His newest release, Amazing, touches on the violence and police brutality that is spread across the media.

Austin’s SXSW music festival billed Nook this year as “here for those who love music with substance and true passion,” noting Nook’s 2014 tour with 2 Live Crew and collaborations with legendary Texas DJ Michael Watts of Swisha House, Chalie Boy, and Kstylis.

Nook believes that a shift in consciousness is needed to lead the new generation, and with Jump On It, he’s led by example.

Early days
Jump On It as community staple began with a performance at Doris Miller Auditorium at the “Turn Your Back On Violence” event organized by Lloyd Ellison in 1996.  Seeing underutilization of local parks by its Black residents, Dorothy Turner issued a call to action for anyone willing to throw youth events or programming in Rosewood Park.  As history would have it, Nook would be the only one to answer the call.

Nook’s mother named Jump On It, and Dorothy helped make it happen. Being the force of nature that she was, Dorothy helped Nook bring Jump On It into existence with investments of time, faith, and determination.

“We didn’t have no money.  She went to everybody we needed to work with; she got them to all work on I.O.U.s.  The first year of Jump On It, we did the whole year on I.O.U.s.  As soon as the summer ended, she went and sat in the city manager’s office for two months and demanded that the city pay those I.O.U.s.  So it was all on faith,” says Nook.

The first year of Jump On It, we did the whole year on I.O.U.s.

“She told me, ‘This is gonna happen regardless.  I’m gonna make it happen.  Nook, go do what you do. On my end, I’m gonna do what I gotta do.’  That’s the kind of person she was,” Nook recalls. “She taught me how not to compromise what you believe in.  Without her, the movement would not have taken place.”

Speaking with Nook, the themes of community and organization run deep. In his opinion, Jump On It has always had support for its ideals, but it still lacks the monetary support needed for continued growth.  During the height of its success, according to Nook, there were 8,000 to 10,000 Black people in attendance at Givens Park for Jump On It.

Photo by Stephanie Devon Warren
Photo by Stephanie Devon Warren

Hard times
Any business that receives funding discovers strings attached.  With majority of the Jump On It funding initially coming from the City of Austin, Nook reached a crossroads where community needs clashed with city desires.  More trouble reared its head in the form of Nook’s personal health and rumors of violence at Jump On It.

“At the end of every summer I was being rushed to the hospital,” Nook says. “I would pass out and have asthma attacks.  I would hold out until the end of the summer and then say ‘Call the EMS, I’m done.’”

I would hold out until the end of the summer and then say ‘Call the EMS, I’m done.’

Nook took a hiatus from Jump On It in 2006. For the next eight years, Nook says he hosted at least one neighborhood gathering each year, but he put Jump On It on pause.

“I stopped doing Jump On It because I got caught in the gauntlet of the politics and different things being done to destroy what we were trying to do.  It wasn’t really about the money.  The last year before the break we had up to $170,000 to $180,000 on the table from the city that was already approved.  The only way the city does not have to pay you is if you are under investigation.  So a month before Jump On It was supposed to start, they withheld the funds due to a so-called ‘investigation.’”

Nook says that the City of Austin investigated him for misappropriation of funds, but no charges were filed. soulciti did not receive a reply about whether there was an investigation to an email sent to a City of Austin public information specialist in the Corporate Public Information Office.

Renewal
Nook’s wife urged him to bring back Jump On It in 2014, even without financial support from the city. Inspired by the birth of his son, Nook gained a renewed focus and strengthened purpose. The event motto is “Educating through Entertainment.”

“All of the gentrification, everything happening in our neighborhoods, that was done in the absence of us having some kind of community congregation.  Jump On It was us combating that.  Do I like it?  No.  Can I do something about it?  At this point, I can’t do nothing about it but say we have to come together and have something we can call our own.”

We’ll go to any city that’s open to it and needs it.

“Now my motivation is leaving a legacy for my kids, making sure my mom is good, and putting my wife in a position so she can live out her dreams.  My family adds that extra ‘go-get’ that I did not have.  I have to be the man.  Now I know more people suffer if I don’t handle business.”

Today, Nook’s main effort is striving for independence.

“We eventually want to work independently and be self-contained.  It’s going to be that new wave of building communities, and we’ll go to any city that’s open to it and needs it.  The need for what we are doing is out there.  We’ve been gentrified all over.  The things happening here are not unique to Austin.”


Legendary Austin contemporary smooth jazz/R&B band All U Need will perform at Jump On It’s upcoming Old School Night on Wednesday, Aug. 3. Jump On It will conclude the season with a grand finale event on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

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