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Suicide and the Black Church Conference raises awareness

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell

Delegates and academics, survivors and clinicians throughout the world of suicide and suicide prevention converged on the city of Memphis for the annual Suicide and the Black Church Conference Delegates and academics, survivors and clinicians throughout the world of suicide and suicide prevention converged on the city of Memphis for the annual Suicide and the Black Church Conference, hosted by founder and facilitator, Dr. William M. Young, and co-founder, Pastor Dianne P. Young.

The last service at the Suicide and the Black Church Conference was a scene of great rejoicing for Mother Geneva Hoffman (left) and Alisa Williams. (Photo by Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

The theme in years past has focused on suicide as “a silent storm” ravaging the African-American community while “we continue to say that black folk don’t commit suicide,” according to Dr. Young.

“In generations past, we didn’t resort to suicide – not like the alarming numbers we are seeing today, especially among our young people,” he said. “The conference has raised awareness in our churches and community about this very disturbing issue. This year’s conference was a beacon of hope. Our theme was: ‘The Sun Will Shine Again.’ And it’s so true. After the long, dark night of grief, the sun will shine again.”

And that’s the message delegates such as Alice Jordan-Miles, project coordinator of the Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition in Fort Wayne, absorbed at the conference held on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

“Our own challenges have been daunting,” said Jordan-Miles. “For a number of years, suicide has been the fourth-leading cause of death for those 15-54 and the third-leading cause of death for young people 15-19. But this conference was truly uplifting. We can’t help but believe that the sun will shine again.”

Peeping through the clouds

Two power-packed days of workshops by heavy hitters such as Dr. Sherry Molock, a psychology professor at George Washington University in Washington, DC, armed delegates with the latest methods of prevention and tools for struggling survivors to “really live again.” Dr. Molock lost her own son to suicide.

The Rev. Gerald Gurley, pastor of Atlanta’s historic Providence Missionary Baptist Church, delivered a luncheon keynote address with the fervor of a Sunday morning soul-stirrer.

Throughout, the delegates talked, many of them reflecting on their own personal loss through suicide and how they found the strength to go on.

There was the mother who lost her 32-year-old daughter more than two decades ago.

“Linda had been depressed, but her father and I had no idea how severe it was. Nobody really talked about suicide then…She carried a stick with her all the time ‘ to beat the devil off of her,’ she would say. One day, she was going for a ride, and she wanted to take the children with her. But they were tired and didn’t want to go, so she went by herself. She drove herself across the bridge to Carlisle, Arkansas, about two hours over the bridge.

“Her death was ruled an accident, and we couldn’t talk about it because the insurance would not pay a life policy for a suicide. But Linda took that stick and wedged it against the seat and the accelerator. A witness said the car went airborne and crashed into a ravine. Her body was broken and crushed… I couldn’t have gotten through that without Jesus.”

Another mother recalled the night her son took his life.

“Depression had set in, and my son was tormented by his own demons all through that last night. He wrestled all night, and finally about four in the morning, I got a call from him. His voice was so distorted, I couldn’t tell which one of my sons it was. He said, ‘I broke,’ and hung up. I tried to call both my sons and couldn’t get either one to answer. Finally, I got a call that my baby son had taken his life with the same gun his father had taken his. It was the Lord that brought me through that…”

So many stories, so much depression and signs that survivors missed. So many hints they did not get. But there was comfort in sharing with those of common experiences. A sense of liberation infused this year’s confab.

Said one survivor, “It seemed, at least for us, the sun would never shine again. But this conference has changed me. Dr. Young said the sun would shine again. And my, how the sun did shine.”

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