How your life can give light to my mom’s legacy

To: Gabrielle Union-Wade

From: Vernon Turner (As told to Lauren Brill)

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Dear Gabrielle Union-Wade,

You, your husband (Dwyane Wade) along with Ciara and Russ Wilson are producing a movie about my life. It’s important to share my story because of the lessons I learned and the adversity I have overcome. However, most importantly, I want to bring justice, purpose, and understanding to my mother’s life and story, as well as peace and love to our ever-so-complex mother-son relationship.

Gabrielle Union-Wade is among the producers making a movie about Vernon Turner’s life.

Gabrielle, I have a strong preference for the type of woman and actress who will play the role of my mom and I have a good reason for it.

I know that my mother’s life was challenging and full of complications. The actress who plays her role doesn’t have an easy story to convey.

As a child, my mom would look at me sometimes with cold eyes. It was as if she was looking through me. I wouldn’t say she ignored me, but I didn’t feel her love. I couldn’t make sense of it. One day it all came together when she told me how I came into this world.

She was a heavy drug addict but I never saw her do drugs until I was 11 years old. I walked into the bathroom and there she was with a needle in her arm. I froze. I just stared at her and she looked at me. We stared at each other for a good five seconds.

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Then, I yelled at her, “Why are you doing that? Why are you doing this?”

She summoned me into the bathroom and told me to sit down and watch her put the needle in her arm.

Vernon’s mother, Jackie, struggled with addiction

“I never want you to be in the position I am in right now. It is going to kill me,” she said as she continued to put the poison in her arm.

I said, “Mom if you know it’s going to kill you. Why are you doing it?”

She paused with tears dripping down her face and said, “It makes the pain go away. It makes me not think about it.”

That’s when she told me about the moment that changed her life. She was coming home from band practice when two men grabbed her and brought her to the top of an abandoned building. There was a third man waiting. Together, they gang-raped her.  They were going to swing her off the roof but they heard someone coming. So they dropped her and they took off.

That was the day I was conceived. That’s how she got pregnant. I was a walking, breathing reminder of what happened to her. From that moment on, I thought I was a huge tragic mistake. For years, I would not look at myself in the mirror.

And while I suffered, she did, too. After the assault, she became a prostitute. That’s when she started doing drugs.

I thought I was a huge tragic mistake. For years, I would not look at myself in the mirror.

Prior to the assault, my mom had a lot of talents. I was told she had an infectious personality. She was athletic – a track runner to be exact – and she had a smile that lit up the room, just like you, Gabrielle. She was an artist and had the potential for greatness.  Sadly, I only saw flashes of these qualities. I didn’t get the opportunity to see her at her best.

Vernon moved to Staten Island at seven years old

Our relationship was heartbreaking. When I was seven years old, she decided to move in with a man who loved her. He was Italian and lived in an all-white neighborhood. Instead of being happy for my mom I was mad that my little brother and I had to move away from my grandmother in an African-American community to live with my stepdad. Then, my mom had three more children and I became the caregiver. By age nine, I was braiding hair, changing diapers and cooking dinner.

Eventually, I found football. Football became an outlet for all my pain. I channeled all of the negativity around me into my craft. However, my mother used the game as a tool to discipline me. One day, at 15 years old, I rushed home to tell her that I was going to play varsity the following year. Before I could speak, she told me I was grounded for some chores I didn’t complete. I tried again to tell her the news.

She said, “You are not playing anything.”

Vernon played football at Curtis High School on Staten Island

All the resentment was building up. I went to my room, got down on my knees beside my bed and put my hands together. I prayed that she would die and I meant it. I wanted her to die. 72 hours later she was gone. She died from pneumonia.

From that day until I go six feet under, I’ll always be broken. I know I didn’t kill my mom but the fact that I prayed that she would die and she did – that’s a guilt that will haunt me for the rest of my life and I will never get past that.

When she died, I didn’t want to leave her grave. I stayed for hours and walked home from the cemetery by myself. It was only after she died that I truly understood her strength. She made the ultimate sacrifice for me. No one would have faulted her if she aborted me or put me up for adoption. But she kept me and she protected me as best she could.

Vernon lost his mother when he was 15 years old.

I know she loved me. While most of the time it was tough love, there were glimpses of real love.

The Christmas before she died, I remember walking into the kitchen and saying “Merry Christmas, mom.”

She stopped cooking. She looked at me and she said, “Merry Christmas baby.”

She gave me a nice long hug. In my 15 years of living, I had never experienced such a warm hug like that from my mother. That memory is proof of my mom’s strength and love.

Despite her struggles, my mom was a fighter. She never ever gave up. She took care of her five kids, including one, me, that was born under horrific circumstances.

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Gabrielle, for my mom’s role I want an actress who understands the pain my mother felt from her assault but also someone who embodies her strength.  You know the pain of sexual assault on a deep level. You are a survivor. You are a strong woman. You are relentless.

Gabrielle is a successful actress, advocate and mom.

I want someone who smiles often – someone who has lived their dreams and overcome their fears. I want someone whose inherent talents and positive traits shine through them. I want someone who is living a happy and fulfilled life – the one my mother never got to fully experience.

Gabrielle, Not only are you an accomplished actress but you speak out against injustice. You are a businesswoman and because of your perseverance, you are now also a mom. You are a role model for so many young people.

All of the aforementioned traits are so important to me when it comes to my mother’s role. That’s because I want the person who plays my mom to not only portray who she was as I knew her but also in real life be an example of who that young girl walking home from band practice might have been able to become had I never been born.

Gabrielle, I truly hope that person will be you….

Can’t wait to get started,

Vernon Turner
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