Family crisis allows my daughter to preach kindness and love for her sister

  • Written by Claudia Parker


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Photo by Claudia Parker

Donae Parker poses for a recent photo to be used in a program booklet at an upcoming conference where she is speaking.


Through teary eyes, I witnessed my 9-year-old daughter, Donae, deliver a 12-minute sermon on faith during a youth service held this Sunday at Roberts Temple Church of God, 4021 S. State, Chicago. Her message was personal, at times lighthearted, while other times heartfelt. She ended with a petition for the audience to have faith by inviting her baby sister, Rhonda-Rene, before them so the duet could recite the closing words of “Have faith. Have faith!”

I was overcome with emotion watching both of my daughters excitingly sharing a message of faith with a room full of people who rejoiced in the Lord for having witnessed a third-grader this bold and confident for Christ.

“How did you train her to do that?” That is the question my husband, Don, and I are bombarded with everywhere she speaks. I’d love to take the credit for having raised a preschool pastor, but it actually came about as a result of a family crisis.    

Donae had longed for a sibling. When I brought Rhonda-Rene home from the hospital I couldn’t peel her away from the kid. Donae smothered her like gravy over a biscuit. It was only a short time before I detected Rhonda-Rene wasn’t developing in a typical fashion. My intuition led to a plethora of specialists’ revealing a diagnosis of a lifelong disability. A mutation in her FOXP1 gene was discovered and it comes with a variety of characteristics that mimic autism. While Don and I tried desperately to figure out how to handle our “new normal” conversing with doctors, therapists and social workers, Donae was often asked to take a seat and keep quiet. None of us could comprehend how this could be meant for our good.

For Donae, especially!

Not only was Donae unable to interact with Rhonda-Rene in the manner she had hoped, she had also lost the attention she was used to receiving from me and Don. That’s about the time we met her imaginary friend in the mirror. That was pretty harmless, but the heart palpitations and other health-related complaints that kept us running back and forth to the pediatrician weren’t. In each instance, a placebo prescription seemed to solve the problem, until the next one.

After praying about how to handle both of my children’s needs appropriately, God gave me a dream that manifested the idea for my children’s book titled, “Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor.” Seeing as how Donae was 3 and a preschooler herself, I ran the concept by her. “What do you think of a children’s book that portrays kids handling all the affairs of a ministry while educating them on the days of the week and numbers 1-10,” I asked her?

I suppose you can say she was my consultant. She felt the idea was superb, ‘if’ she could be the pastor. I acquiesced and made the preschool pastor character in my book after her. But, I later learned she meant she wanted me to help her become a real pastor.

Hmmm. That took a little more thought but after watching a few episodes of Joel Osteen, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer deliver their sermons over the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), we were ready.

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At the age of 4, Donae was able to enthusiastically memorize several scriptures that were organized into a four-minute message. After gathering all of her baby dolls, Barbies and stuffed animals we had ourselves a congregation. Just in case someone wanted to give their life to Christ, Rhonda-Rene’s baby bathtub sufficed for a baptism. All of this was recorded and posted on YouTube. To date, Donae’s Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor sermon has been viewed over 160,000 times. Here’s the link:

Since her first sermon five years ago, Donae has been invited to speak at various churches and organizations. Her mini-messages of faith have resonated with congregations so much that she’s often invited back several times to the same location.

However, Sunday was uniquely special because it’s the first time Donae has ever invited Rhonda-Rene to come up with her. It wasn’t even possible before now because Rhonda-Rene wasn’t able to speak at all. She would cause such a disruption babbling, we would usually schedule a respite worker to keep her during Donae’s speaking engagements.

Words cannot describe how far our family has come.

God found a way to give Donae the attention she was seeking in a way that glorifies Him and is encouraging to others. Because she’s such an articulate communicator, she's helped Rhonda-Rene to approximate words and produce language doctors were uncertain she’d ever be able to form. Bit by bit we have embraced the journey of having a special needs child, and we now see the gifts that we’ve all been given as a result.

All things are truly working together for our good. To view Donae’s most recent sermon on faith, visit

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Memories of tornado are still clear 50 years later

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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I can’t recall specifically the events that led up to the devastating tornado that ripped through Oak Lawn and portions of Evergreen Park and Hometown on April 21, 1967.

It was raining hard late that afternoon. I can recall hail and the branches on large trees bending back and forth. I imagine there were some large branches that were on the street that neighbors pushed to the front lawns of homes in the Washington Heights neighborhood where I lived in Chicago.

But I remember other large storms in the 1960s where the tree branches bent back and forth, followed by hail and thunder.

I did not live in Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park or Hometown at the time. It was earlier that evening that I learned that a tornado hit these communities, with Oak Lawn suffering the most damage. My father was a Chicago firefighter and he often worked side jobs on his days off. He was working on the city’s Southeast Side. He recalled seeing in the distance a small funnel touching up and down in the distance while he was waiting at a stoplight. Some debris was flying in the air.

He recalled that it seemed to vanish. The accounts I heard about the tornado was that the winds began to die down as the twister approached the lake. My father was not far from Lake Michigan and essentially saw the final phase of the tornado.

But the survivors of that tornado that ravaged through the southwest suburbs 50 years ago on Friday have a different story. The most repeated comments I’ve heard was that it sounded like a roaring train that grew louder and louder. Many mentioned that the sky had a green-blue look to it, followed quickly by black clouds and hail.

Oak Lawn resident Mary Lou Harker, who has been active in several organizations in the community and has served as a historian, recalls that it was strangely silent. She mentioned that the birds quit singing and seemingly disappeared. Like many other witnesses, she recalls the dark clouds rolling in and the hail.

Harker and her family survived the F4 tornado with winds estimated at about 200 miles per hour. But other residents were not so fortunate. Eighteen people died at the corner of 95th Street and Southwest Highway adjacent to Oak Lawn Community High School. Some of the vehicles that were waiting at the stoplight were tossed in the air, some of which slammed into the pedestrian overpass.

The end result was that 33 people were killed in Oak Lawn alone. The tornado also touched down in Belvidere, a town 65 miles northwest of Chicago, and some northwest suburbs. Over 500 people were injured in Oak Lawn and over 1,000 overall. The tornado touched down in the village at 5:24 p.m.

Students who were at Oak Lawn High School for after-school activities and sports programs came out after the tornado ripped through the area to assist the search for survivors and clean up debris. Buildings in that area that were either completely destroyed or sustained heavy damage were Oak Lawn Community High School’s south end, Shoot’s Lynwood Lounge, Fisher’s Motel, the Fairway Super Mart, Sherwood Forest Restaurant and two gas stations.

The one image that stands out in the minds of residents was the Suburban Transit Company at 95th and Menard. Buses were actually piled on other buses and vehicles.

The tornado damaged St. Gerald School and then raced to near 91st and Cicero and virtually destroyed the Airway Trailer Park and the Oak Lawn Roller Rink. I had heard about the roller rink because some kids I knew planned to go the popular location that day but didn’t.

The strange aspect of the tornado is that it snowed a couple of days later. Firefighters, public works employees and volunteers covered homes in which the roofs were torn off because of the tornado.

I recall going with my father several days later to view the carnage along 95th Street. Not being that familiar with the area at the time, I just looked at the piles of bricks and leveled buildings. Flattened vehicles were still a common sight several days later. The area near 95th Street and Southwest Highway resembled a war zone.

John Brodemus was 17 at the time and a senior at Oak Lawn High School. He was one of the survivors but was stunned looking at the destruction later. He saw the buses on top of other buses at the Suburban Transit Company, and that still stands out in his mind. A former science teacher at Oak Lawn High and Richards high schools, he is now retired and lives in Oswego.

But what happened on that day is still permanently etched in his memories.

“When you have days that can be sunny with high humidity, I become leery of days like that,” Brodemus said. “About 90 percent of tornadoes are preceded by hail. If you are hearing train-like sounds, you need to take immediate shelter.”

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Warm weather arrives, to be followed by unpredictable weather

  • Written by Janet Boudreau

By now we've had some great days of sun and warmish weather, but if you know Chicago, it's all a big tease. I can't tell you how many times I've looked out at bright blue skies and the tulips waving in the breeze, a sure sign I can toss on a light jacket and head on out.

But once you get going you find that gentle wind is actually a sharp bite in the face, and the warmth of the sunbeams, a big chill when the clouds pass overhead. Mother Nature can be very devious.

I've heard jokes, maybe you as well, that Chicagoans are known to don shorts on the first warm day in March and wash their cars in their driveways. Come the first cool day in September, out come the fashionable boots, sweaters and scarves. Are we rushing things? Are we tired and bored and always ready to hang up our hats on winter (or summer, etc)?

As a longtime lifestyle blogger I have friends, or blog followers, from all over the world. I've found that talking about the weather is universal, not just over the water cooler here in the U.S.

This has really helped me hone my skills in geography and climates. I might be chatting online with a blog friend in Australia, who is heading to the beach while I'm tossing another log on the fire. Another friend in Utah constantly throws me off when in March she tells me she planted flowers just a few days after a terrible freeze and 75 mph winds from across the canyons.

But I digress. There are unfortunate souls who live in areas where the weather is relatively the same throughout the year. A blogger I know who is a life-long Floridian is completely baffled that I have to pack and unpack clothes on a seasonal basis (no walk-in closet here).

Apparently, she simply tosses on her sweater when it's chilly. Another friend in southern California said to me that she had always thought Chicago was windy and cold year-round.

What? Have these people never been to our beautiful city and had the joy of spending the day at Oak StreetBeach? A bike ride along Lake Shore Drive? A picnic in Millennium Park? I guess they have just narrowed their image of Chicago down to those scenes on the nightly news of people swaying sideways in the wind with their umbrellas inside out.

But I have to be humble and admit that when my friend in Sydney is enjoying her summer and taking off for the beach in December, I wondered when the heck they celebrate Christmas.

So, to answer my question about the possibility that we might be bored with our seasons and want to rush into the next, I think it may run deeper than that. We are a hearty bunch.

Just as we have many perfect mellow days throughout the year that make us give thanks that we are alive, we also have the down and dirty, the days that test our abilities anywhere from hopping over mud puddles, to digging our car out of a snow pile. We roll with it.

And when we are dusting off those sandals at the first real sign of summer, or pulling out our Northface boots in the winter, we're looking forward. It's anticipation, not dread. Because we know this season will flow into the next and that's pretty much how life works.

Janet Boudreau is a writer, blogger and longtime resident of Evergreen Park. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

No easy answers for Trump, U.S. when Syria crosses lines

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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When does a red line become a red line?

President Donald Trump was asked if Syria’s chemical weapons attack on April 4 that left 87 people killed, 31 of them children, had crossed a red line? Trump responded that it indeed crossed a red line, and it crossed many lines.

And last Thursday, the U.S. responded by firing 59 missiles at Syrian airfields that destroyed aircraft in retaliation for the chemical attacks. Trump had seen the images of children gasping for air and the many dead infants due to the chemical attacks. The red line question appeared to convince Trump, who previously said the U.S. would stay out of the Syrian conflict, that something had to be done.

This same scenario occurred in 2013 when then President Barack Obama warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that his actions and the use of chemical weapons had crossed a red line. But Assad continued to use chemical weapons and Obama decided to take a more measured response. Obama even admitted years later that this was a dark period of his presidency.

The overall response to the Trump administration’s decision to bomb Syria has generally been favorable. It gives the impression that we are tough. But several days have passed and I am wondering where do we go from here? We have had other instances in American history that lines have been drawn in the sand and major decisions had to be made.

Before the U.S. got involved in World War II, we were often referred to as isolationists, caring only for our own self-interests. Rumors had been circulating that the Nazi regime in Germany had been more than just critical of Jews, foreigners and homosexuals. Critics point out that the U.S. preferred to keep a cool distance. If that was true, it was due to the fact the U.S. did not want to return to another World War I.

However, a few years passed and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec, 7, 1941 and shocked our nation. We were now in World War II. My dad and millions of other men would soon be fighting overseas. But it took a controversial decision to bring the war to a rapid conclusion when the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.

Since then, we have been in Vietnam, Iraq and Iraq again. And we are still in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those two wars seemingly will never end.

Obama’s approach may have been too detached when it came to Syria. But as several military officials said at the time, there are no good alternatives. That’s when you have to review our history. In this case, we did not have to look back far. Sending in troops and getting involved in the quagmire that is Syria was not an option Obama wanted to explore. Getting involved in Syria while still having troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was not something Obama wanted to do.

Even Trump at the time said that Obama should stay out of Syria. And we believe the current president does not want to get involved in a ground battle in Syria. The irony of all this is that Russia and Iran are aligned with Assad in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS. But the problem here is that Assad appears to have no problem gassing his own residents, which includes children. He may be fighting against ISIS but he is also wants to terminate any perceived dissidents in his country.

Since Russia is not big on human rights, they don’t care even though they pretend to. What they are concerned about is keeping Assad in power. That’s why Russia can still say that their main goal is to defeat ISIS but we know more is at stake here.

Perhaps nothing more will occur in the near future. Syrian residents are still in danger and Assad is still in power. I don’t think Trump or most of his cabinet members look long term when they have to make decisions about what needs to be done in Syria. Maybe the U.S. has made their point. We will use force if necessary when Assad uses chemical weapons.

But the violence continues in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more attacks occurred on Saturday in Khan Sheikhoun, the town that was previously hit with chemical weapons. According to one published report, one woman was killed and several other people were injured. This time, no chemical weapons were used.

I believe the Trump administration will proceed with caution from now on when it comes to Syria. In World War I and II, the U.S. had no other choice but to go to war. We are currently involved in two. Getting involved in Syria is a line that the U.S. does not want to cross.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

A tale of perseverance that graduates should heed

  • Written by Claudia Parker


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Submitted photo

Keisan Marshall is seen at left working on The Maury Show. He now works on the Dr. Phil program.


Graduates, you might want to lean in for this. Just in case your momma didn’t mention it, your diploma alone may not land you that dream job. Obtaining your education, yeah, that was the easy part. Now the real work begins!

Keisean Marshall, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., said he dreamt of working in television since he was in grade school. Born and raised on the streets of Harlem, New York, there wasn’t a shortage of television stations nearby.

“I couldn’t have been any older than 10 years old when I used to loiter outside networks begging them to hire me as an intern,” said Marshall. “They’d look at me all sideways.”

Marshall said he was undeterred. His hunger to work in television never waned. After palming his diploma from Harlem, New York’s Rice High School, he pursued and conquered a broadcast journalism degree from Hampton University in Virginia.

Today, Marshall can be found on the Paramount Studios lot working as an associate producer on the Dr. Phil show, which is currently in the coveted No. 1 slot in the daytime talk show lineup.

Marshall might be resting his head in Sherman Oaks with his chest stuck out like Sherman Hemsley for having ‘moved-on-up’ like The Jeffersons, but it wasn’t exactly an elevator ride to the top.

“I didn’t find a job in television for two years after graduation,” said Marshall. “I was working temp jobs… doing all kinds of stuff I didn’t want to do, like retail, standing on my feet all day. I found myself lingering in the dressing room feeling sorry for myself a few too many times.”

Marshall said his frequent interviews for positions within his field left him waiting by the phone.

“None of them ever called,” said Marshall.

Desperate, he applied for an audience assistance position for a new British tabloid talk show called, The Jeremy Kyle Show, which debuted back in 2005.

Not exactly sure what an audience assistant even was, Marshall said he eagerly accepted the on-the-spot offer that came with a whopping $7.25 an hour wage.

“I was still living with my parents at that time so I made it work,” recalled Marshall. However, what didn’t work was the duties of his job. “I was the audience hype man and I also had to figure out how to fill the audience seats.”

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To prove himself worthy of a position more suitable, Marshall said he took the initiative to prepare and pitch various show topics to the suits above him and impressively, he slid into a production assistant position.

Too bad the show was canceled shortly after!

Thank heavens for friends and referrals because that’s exactly how Marshall went on to spend his next two years working for The Maury Show that eventually led to his associate producer title. Somewhere between the 45-minute train ride from Harlem to Stamford, Conn., and the baby momma drama we all know Maury for, Marshall said he needed a change. He applied for a job with Revolt TV. It's an American music-oriented digital cable channel owned and operated by Sean “Diddy” Combs.

“When I accepted the job, I didn’t realize it wasn’t local,” laughed Marshall. “The job was in L.A. and I had just got my own apartment in NY.”

Marshall found grace yet again with a friend who provided a small piece of real estate in the corner of her apartment on an air mattress.

“I had to get comfortable with the L.A. transit system quick because I didn’t have a car either. “

The Hampton U professors had warned Marshall that his quest into entertainment television may prove troublesome.

“They advised me to stay away from entertainment journalism, I don’t think they thought it was respectable, said Marshall. “They told me to pursue a broadcast position with the nightly news or something.”

He said when his journalism classmates would be researching politics and crime, he’d be trying to find the latest Hollywood scoop.

A dream is a dream, even when there are obstacles blocking the view. And for Marshall, there were many.

Budget cuts at Revolt TV left Marshall unemployed again!

The Revolt pink slip didn’t sting quite as much as the one he received from his next talk show gig with, The Real. There, Marshall worked with the beautiful and wittingly entertaining cast of Adrienne Bailon, Loni Love, Jeannie Mai, Tamera Mowry-Housley and formerly on the show, Tamar Braxton.

“I was crushed when my department got downsized, I loved that job,” explained Marshall. “I was depressed after that.”

The Lord lifted Marshall right up outta his depression by leading him to the honorable, Bishop T.D. Jakes. No, he wasn’t attending his megachurch, The Potters House, in Dallas. He was working on his new talk show, The T.D. Jakes show.

“It was such a great experience working for him. He truly cared about every show. He’d invest hours working with each producer, talking to us about our shows. He genuinely wanted to help every guest,” said Marshall. “Sometime he’d be analyzing a person and providing counsel and in my head, I’d be like, 'hey…that sounds like my life. You could be talking about me.'”

Marshall didn’t confirm, however, several media sources have reported the T.D. Jakes show will not return for a second season.

“I already miss working there,” expressed Marshall.

Marshall is still settling into his new quarters on the Dr. Phil show. He’s anticipating a lot from the well-oiled machine they seem to have in place.

“My career is still young, I’m looking forward to learning and growing from everyone around me,” Marshall said. “When you surround yourself with people who are supportive, you can be successful in anything you try. Your attitude and how you interact with others is critical to your upward mobility, if you’re unlikeable, your education and experience is meaningless. Lastly, set your sights on a goal and hit it, then set another one.”

Graduates, you’re going to need passion, patience and perseverance if you desire true fulfillment. Knowing this in advance will help prepare you for the journey that lies ahead.  

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .