I would like to share with you the experience of attending my first American Foundation for Suicide Prevention “Out of the Darkness Community Walk” in Edinburg, Texas.
Each and every suicide is said to directly impact no less than six people and in 2016, 44,965 people decided to end their lives prematurely. Of those people, 3,403 were from Texas. This means that nationwide, no less that 260,790 people were directly impacted by someone allowing their demons to win. Statistics place Texas as the 41st highest suicide rate per capita. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States of America and is the 11th leading cause of death in Texas. While near the bottom end of the stats, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
The walk was originally scheduled for November 7, 2017, but with Hurricane Harvey causing tremendous amounts of devastation in the Gulf Coast region, the decision to reschedule the walk was made. On January 6, I showed up at 5:00 a.m. to start helping set the event up and see how things work. I knew that this would be my first of many AFSP events, so I wanted to be early and learn as much as possible. And I am glad that I did, as this allowed me to meet Melissa Hinojosa-Zamora. Melissa is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention South Texas Chapter founding board member. Additionally, she sits as the fundraising chair and the public policy chair.
With the walk being rescheduled attendance was less than previous years, but with Harvey having people working on fixing their houses, places of work, and vehicles, a low attendance number was expected. Typically there are over 800 people walking the Edinburg walk each year, but 594 still put their worries from the storm aside and showed up to walk this year. The community pulled together and raised $16,281 in donations that went straight to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. While this is lower than the average of $25,000 of past years, this is still commendable under the circumstances.
Even while setting up the event you could tell that there was a somber tone. After all, everyone is here because they lost someone, are supporting someone who lost someone, or they had suicidal thoughts in the past. I personally didn’t expect it to be as emotionally heavy as it was.
But then something amazing happened. The DJ arrived and started setting up. As he was working his magic assembling the sound system, he started to play the carefully selected playlist of positive and uplifting music. Music has a way of changing everything and the AFSP’s playlist was working. This helped to foster a glow of happiness in the air that was refreshing and uplifting. There was an unspoken sorrow and a good bit of needed peace all at the same time. It touched my soul in a way that I cannot begin to explain.
While suicide has directly impacted me a few times in my short 38 years, this event alone instantly opened my eyes to just how much pain suicide causes in the nation.
At 8:00 a.m. people started showing up to register for the event, decorate a rock in memory of a loved one to be placed in the park, or share their story of a lost loved one, or a story of them beating suicide. People were connecting with others to help heal, to cry, to laugh, and more importantly to live. Some danced to some Zumba while others visited the local community resource tables that sponsored the event. Everyone was getting ready in their own way for the walk that would start at 10:00 a.m.
In the past, I have had suicidal thoughts and even planned my own suicide. I have lost friends, co-workers, and relatives to suicide and had too many of the same attempt suicide or have suicidal thoughts as well. But never had I been in a place where so many people are coming together to support one another and share their stories about loss in their life from suicide.
Some people were crying and embracing one another. There were stories of how they all leaned on each other in their hard times of loss, and some of those stories mentioned how it ended up bringing the family closer together. Sadly, often times those stories ended in the family having more issues and being torn apart though.
Just before 10:00 a.m. the stage came alive. There were speeches from keynote speakers, Melissa shared the story of the loss of her father that prompted her to become involved, and then it was time to walk. Due to the cold weather, the walk was a bit shorter than usual, but it still brought people together. It was an amazing experience to say the least, and I encourage you all to get online at AFSP.org and find a walk near you and participate. I assure you that it will be a moving experience!
I thank you for joining me on this journey, and please check back next month to read about some of the challenges and memories from the first two months on the road!
Remember that you are loved, you have value, and you have purpose! Ride safe!