SXU Alumna Releases Inspiring Film About Daughter's Rare Genetic Condition
Saint Xavier University (SXU) alumna Claudia Parker '07 has released a film, "Rarely Have You Seen a Fox Like This," a documentary about her 12-year-old daughter, Rhonda-Rene Parker, who’s battling a rare disease called FOXP1 syndrome.
Parker, who spent years working to uncover her daughter's health issues through a battery of tests, sought to tell their story in an effort to help other families affected by the disorder to feel less alone. Parker's film sheds light on the rare neurodevelopmental disorder, diagnosed in only a small fraction of the global population, which causes multiple impairments, including sensory disorder, language delay, intellectual-related disabilities and more. Fewer than 400 people in the world have the disease, so Parker's hopeful the film will bring it the sort of exposure it needs to help more medical providers and educators become familiar with it and inspire support and funding for crucial research.
"Families shouldn't have to feel isolated and alone with FOXP1 syndrome – there are more of us out there. With this film, we hope to unite families and empower them to advocate for their loved ones, fostering a sense of belonging and shared strength. Together, we can create a world where those affected by FOXP1 syndrome receive the support they deserve to work toward a brighter future," said Parker.
At first, Parker hoped to study communication or journalism in graduate school, but her decision to pursue an MBA at SXU stemmed from a desire to create broad leadership opportunities for herself. There, she found community, honed knowledge, and gained friendships.
"I really enjoyed my professors. They were all still working within the fields they were instructing us in, so it made their lectures relevant. I also enjoyed my classmates. One of them became like family and she and her husband are my children's godparents," said Parker.
As she finished up her degree, Parker wasn't quite sure what was next for her.
"I didn’t follow a traditional path. I'd been married to my husband, Dr. Don Parker, for five years during the time I was finishing up my master's degree at SXU. I was five months pregnant when I walked across the stage and was working for JP Morgan Chase training bankers on sales practices. I was just shy of a six-figure salary when I gave birth to my daughter. Despite my newly hung diploma and comfortable salary, I looked into the eyes of my new baby and resigned. My family became my proudest achievement," said Parker.
Parker was soon on the path to journalism, though that road was also unconventional. After losing her mother, Rhonda Foster, in December 2008 to congestive heart failure, Parker was grieving while trying to navigate being a new, stay-at-home mother. To channel her emotions in a constructive way, she started writing and published a memoir, "Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own."
A book signing for the memoir was held at Evergreen Park Library, and Parker gave them 50% of the proceeds from her book sales to use for future programming. As word spread about her book, she was contacted by The Reporter Newspaper and had her story featured on the front page of the paper on Thanksgiving Day. Her interactions with the journalist who interviewed her made her realize the work she wanted to do and inspired her to be bold – she contacted the paper and asked for a job. Several opinion editorials later, she moved from correspondent to columnist and wrote for several other newspapers and magazines.
Her column, "I Claudia," helped her to feel validated and fulfilled with the autonomy to share the type of stories she wanted to write. But as the economy shifted and budgets were cut, the column ended. Parker didn't give up, though – after prayer and reflection, she realized she could still tell the stories she wanted to tell but would just need to adjust the method. Parker wanted to focus on telling stories of hope and started "Five Minutes of Faith," a series of short, documentary-style testimonies from various generations sharing their experiences and encounters with God.
Parker also has her own business, Claudia Parker Portraits, which services local school districts and nonprofit organizations. After she left The Reporter Newspaper, she spent two years as director of communications for the Evergreen Park School District 124, where she handled media relations, photography and video production. In an effort to maintain better work-life balance, she created a business plan to allow her to do the same thing working for herself.
As she reflects on where she is now and her time at SXU, Parker is grateful for the confidence it instilled in her.
"Having an advanced degree from SXU has given me the confidence and wherewithal as a minority businesswoman to create my own lane. SXU taught me to search for truth, to think critically, and to communicate effectively while serving others with compassion. The mission and values of the University truly reflect how I live my life," said Parker.
Into the future, Parker is dreaming big. She'd love to see her book adapted into a film on the silver screen. She hopes to continue to create documentaries that share thought-provoking stories of hope and advocacy and she looks forward to allowing education to place her within rooms and before people that surprise her.
"Rarely Have You Seen a Fox Like This" will screen within a collection of films submitted by the Community Film Workshop of Chicago at the 29th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival on Sunday, November 5, at 3 p.m. at the Gene Siskel Film Center.