Claudia Parker hugs Steve LeClercq during the opening of the TD Jakes show, which aired last week.
It was one week ago today that I made my television debut on the TD Jakes show, which airs nationally on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), and locally on WCIU, The U, and it’s Subchannel WCUU, The U Too.
Unlike my past appearances on television talk shows where there’s been a brief glimpse of me smiling from the audience, this time I was an invited guest of the show. Contrary to my bubbly persona, I spent most of the interview in tears. Amazing Reunion Stories was the show topic. Most reunions are exciting right? Not if it’s with a family member of someone responsible for taking the life of your baby sister.
It wasn’t exciting at all - more like terrifying!
It was June 7, 1979 that my 2-year-old sister, Khalilah C. Turner, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. It’s been 37 years since her tragic death. This past Sunday would’ve been her 40th birthday. In a divine twist of fate, God saw fit that she receive an unconventional gift -- a headstone purchased by Steven LeClercq, the adult son of the driver responsible for her death! He recently passed away, which is what prompted Steven’s curiosity.
“My dad spoke very little of the accident to me and my siblings. My mother even had very little information,” said Steven. “I was nosing through old stories I’d heard and this particular one had the least amount of details. After piecing together several parts of a tattered story, I felt it was my responsibility to visit Khalilah’s grave to show respect, grieve and offer condolences.”
Steven said he didn’t expect to find a grave without a headstone. It doesn’t even have a marker--- only grass.
“Upon discovering Khalilah’s whereabouts, it was very saddening to find that she had an unmarked grave,” expressed Steven. He took that information back to his family and together they decided to do something. “If my father had known this before his death, he would’ve headed this task himself.”
Steven said although his father spoke little of the accident, he knew he carried a burden of guilt. His dad apparently lived in the vicinity of where it all happened. He said, “I heard my dad moved, sold that car shortly after and avoided driving near that road.”
Over the last two months Steven and I have become pen pals on Facebook, answering each other’s queries in private messages. I learned he knew far more about me than I knew about him. He said, “I read your book, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own” twice! The first read through was a quick skim looking to see if any useful information was listed in discovering if you were who I thought you were. After realizing that you were the correct person, I became intrigued to read you and your mother’s story leading up to the accident and the events afterwards. I have even recommended it to a couple more family members.”
Since he knew my entire life story, I wanted to level the playing field. “What kind of man was your dad,” I asked?
“He was fairly calm and a wonderful goofball. He adopted me and my brother, all together there are seven of us. He loved my mother unconditionally, during his last days he only wanted her to be taken care of. As we all want to do a better job than our parents, I'm going to have to reach pretty high. I truly admired him as a father.”
I found solace in hearing Steven say his father had lived a life he aspired to live up to. I didn’t know how to react when he walked out to greet me on the T.D. Jakes show. Just as unusual as it was for him to purchase my sister a headstone, I suppose I responded in-kind. When he walked out, I greeted him with a smiling face, arms wide open and gave him a full embrace. We squeezed one another tightly, putting each other at ease before entering the discussion where we held opposing views of the accounts of the accident. Yet, somehow we were able to recognize that we were not opponents, and therefore relinquished any desire to be right and decided to just listen to each other’s truth as we believed it to be.
TD Jakes, whom I’ve always known as Bishop Jakes, is an African-American pastor, author and filmmaker. He is the bishop of The Potter's House, a non-denominational American megachurch. He’s considered by many, as one of the most influential African American leaders in the United States. I knew he’d be the most equipped to handle mediation between Steven and I when I wrote into his new talk show. There was a swift response as, Keisean Marshall, one of the show’s producers, contacted me within three days of my submission. “This story is very inspiring,” he said. “I’m going to fight to make sure you guys come on.” Keisean is a man of his word. I boarded a plane for Los Angeles last Tuesday afternoon, we taped the show on Wednesday and it aired on Thursday, Nov.17.
Only three days before what would’ve been Khalilah’s 40th birthday.
Since the show aired, both Steven and I have been flooded with positive praise for the acceptance and compassion we treated one another with. I believe Bishop Jakes initiated that response with his on air approval when he said, “We all go through the same things in different ways, pain doesn’t care if you’re a man, woman, white, black, rich or poor, it attacks everybody the same. If we could learn from these two people how to reach out of our pain and see one other’s perspective and love anyway -- it would make you want to get up out of bed whistling.”
Wow! What a high compliment from the Bishop. I was elated to have earned his approval. “I think we’ve done something to make both of our parents proud today,” I told Steven after the show.
On behalf of my mother, Rhonda Y. Turner, and siblings, Theresa, Nadia, Angel and Andrew, we would like to thank the LeClercq family for acknowledging Khalilah C. Turner. Through our story, we can show the world how to let LOVE win!
To view our Amazing Reunion Stories, T.D. Jakes episode visit: 1047 - Claudia Is Here To Meet The Son Of The Hit & Run Driver That Killed Her Sister (Part 1).
Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.