From Sugar Ditch to educational success - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

From Sugar Ditch to educational success

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TUNICA COUNTY, Miss. (FOX13) -

Dennis Turner's thoughts on kids these days and how he feels about their gratefulness, or lack thereof, may not sit well with some folks.

"I think kids these days are privileged to have a lot of things, they are privileged that they don't have to work as hard to accomplish anything," he says. "They are so used to things being handed to them it think it makes them a little weak."

To understand that statement, you have to know where Turner comes from.

"I remember these moments, and how bad the stench was over here from the sewer, this was a very poor place," he says sitting in "Sugar Ditch."

Sugar Ditch is country slang for a stinking open sewer. Turner grew up in a shack in the Tunica slum of Sugar Ditch. At one time it was called the poorest place in the United States. He grew up with no running water, no air conditioning, and no indoor toilet. Turner's dad died when he was young and his mom struggled to raise him and 11 other children. She was, at times, all he had.

MORE: Being grateful has health benefits

"Her love and her provisions, the things that she tried to provide for us, I was thankful for that and I was very grateful that she worked as hard to make sure that we had what we needed,  though it was hard at times. I was very thankful for her."

The place Turner grew up in was so bad nobody ever took any pictures of it. Nobody wanted to remember it. Nobody wanted to admit it existed. When it got national attention, the city of Tunica bulldozed it in the mid 1980s. Still, Turner says he was grateful for what he had.  He was 10-years-old before he got his first birthday present.

"My mom was able to go to buy me a watch and as far as I remember that was my first birthday present that I remember."

Turner says he never thought about what he didn't have while living in Sugar Ditch. If anything, he kept his eyes on what he did have. He had his mother and he was grateful for her.

"A praying mother, her faith was so strong, a lot of times I drew from her faith, her faith was so strong and her example was tremendous to the point where as I got older my faith was stronger from watching her."

He has a Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education, and a Masters in Education. He is halfway done with his Doctorate in Education. Turner has a nice house, a nice job, and he's a teacher, a preacher, and a public speaker. He's also got a book out called The Boy from the Ditch. It's about being grateful and about overcoming. He has already had book signings all over the country.

"The power is the fact that I have overcome, and so can others."

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