By Beau Brockett Jr.
I slipped through the side door of the Albion Alternative High School, assigned to cover the city’s mayoral candidate forum being held in its cafeteria. At the click of the door, a dozen heads turned toward me. Given their perplexed expressions, I slowly realized that I had confused the forum’s start time. The event was wrapping up.
Unlike the slightly disgruntled looks of those around her, though, one woman appeared concerned, and walked over to hand me a voter’s guide for reference. I was relieved by her help; now I had a sense of what was happening.
After the forum ended—five minutes after I arrived—the woman approached me again and asked what paper I was working for. My furious notebook scribbling must have given it away. She reassured me that I was not the only one to have confused the forum’s start time of 6:50 p.m. with 7:50. She handed me a lilac business card and told me to contact her if I ever needed her.
The card stated, “Advocate for families…Youth…and Positive Change.” On the back, “Together…We CAN make a difference. Each one Teach One.”
Octavia Crawford-Turner has other business cards. One reveals that she is an author, photographer and public speaker. Another cites her managerial position at the Kevin J. Tidd Funeral Home in Albion.
Crawford-Turner, as I later found out, has went from a cab driver to a State Farm Insurance employee to a journalist for the Albion Recorder and the Marshall Chronicle. In 2013, she was the recipient of the Festival of the Forks Award, and this past year, she was a 2016 Albion High School Distinguished Alumna.
But Crawford-Turner hardly talked about her jobs or recognitions during the hour-long interview we had a few weeks after our fateful encounter. She instead talked about the contents of that lilac card. Her advocacy, personal support and empathy for her fellow neighbors radiated throughout the conversation. It seemed to me as if Crawford-Turner’s true job was not monetary, but to be a mother for her family and the entire community she was born, raised and still lives in.
Crawford Turner’s “Seeds of Joy / Seeds of Compassion”
It was Crawford-Turner’s own mother who instilled a passion for empathy and family advocacy in her.
“I can’t love if I don’t know how to live,” said Crawford-Turner. “So we teach by precept and example…My mother by precept and example taught me to give back.”
Her mother died at 58 from cancer of the gallbladder. She did not tell her daughter the news until the disease was in its final stages. Crawford-Turner believes her mother did this out of protections, but she is still shocked at her passing 22 years later.
“Bereavement never sleeps,” said Crawford-Turner. “Bereavement does not end the day of the funeral.”
To help her through the difficult years after her mother’s death, Crawford-Turner began writing about her. With the encouragement of her aunt, she eventually published a collection of poems and stories as a book called “Expressive MOMents.” She sells copies from her basement by word of mouth and email, and she has received thankful feedback from individuals who have said the book has helped them through difficult moments in their own lives.
“Expressive MOMents” is a journey through remembrance, condolences, wishes, the pain of loss and of moving forward. In a culmination of these journeys, her final poem, “Self-Reflection,” states: “So pray with me that the courage will come / To make the right choice and then move on / To the life that awaits me.”
The book expands far past the love and grief one feels for those who have died. It speaks of soulmates and friendship, pets and struggling strangers. It is a book of empathy.
Crawford-Turner is a mother herself. She and her husband of 40 years, George Turner, have raised three children into adulthood, who have in turn raised five grandchildren.
“I consider myself a career woman, but I started knowing that in order for me to be successful, my family has to be successful,” said Crawford-Turner. “The woman’s role is very, very, very important as a mother.”
A person in the right places
Crawford-Turner has expanded her motherly role far past the traditional family tree and into Albion, a place she calls a “village of love.”
“Octavia has meaningfully touched our lives and those of our loved ones,” said Amy Robertson, president of the Albion Chamber of Commerce, in an article detailing Crawford-Turner’s Festival of the Forks Award. “Octavia deeply understands the human condition and affords the greatest dignity to all with whom she comes in contact.”
Crawford-Turner has come in contact with many individuals from all over the world. Since its inception in 2004, Crawford-Turner has been a host mother for Albion College’s Smooth Transitions program, which pairs first-year students with peers, faculty and community members to provide an easy shift from high school to college.
To date, she has taken 12 students under her wing from as far as South Africa and Japan, said Crawford Turner in our interview. She pulled out a stack of photographs of her past host students and talked about each one with pride. She still keeps in touch with many of them.
“I just wanted to show them the love, the love I had as a child,” said Crawford-Turner.
She also mentors elementary and middle-schoolers as well, whether through the Bethel Baptist Church, where her husband is a deacon, or the local 4-H.
“I just had one kid tell me one time, ‘You’re not my mother,’ and I said, ‘You’re right, but I’m a mother. I’m somebody’s mother, and then I went for the jugular,” said Crawford-Turner, pausing to laugh. “If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t say a word to you, but I care.”
After stepping down as president of the Bethel Baptist deaconess, Turner became a part of its Missionary Society. The group of women visit those who are sick or in bereavement and give donations. Other times, they write personal letters, which she believes can bring a lot of joy to the person who receives one in the mail.
Crawford-Turner is also the treasurer for the Albion Business and Professional Women’s Club, which seeks to promote women in the workplace. At each monthly meeting, speakers are invited, and they cover different issues women face. Last month’s speakers were representatives from two local domestic abuse shelters.
A mother for all
Crawford-Turner notes that her areas of specialty lie in public speaking, community relations, customer service and relationship-building. She says her mission statement is “to acknowledge and remember the fact that although I may not be able to change the world, however, with God’s help, I am willing to do my part, individually and collectively, to improve a small corner of it.”
But after receiving a helping hand from Crawford-Turner during my forum confusion; after she provided me a folder chock-full of notes, poems and words of encouragement to help me “get an A” and after seeing her get excited over the inspiring people she was able to meet and cover during her time as a journalist, I can’t help but wonder if her areas of specialty and mission statement are but synonyms for one common title for all the advocacy and support she shares. A mother.
Photo by Beau Brockett Jr.