Walkin’ In Rhythm

Walkin’ In Rhythm

First Annual Suicide Prevention Walk Forms Thru Those Feeling The Same Pain

By Raoul Dennis // PHOTOGRAPHY RAOUL DENNIS & AMIR STOUDAMIRE

Although two of the most prominent of Maryland laws aimed at preventing teen suicide are written in her daughter’s name, Lauryn, who took her own life at 15, Linda Diaz won’t tell you that it’s the most important part of what she wants people to know.

Director of the Prince George's Office of Community Relations Musa Eubanks and Founder of Lauryn's Law Linda Diaz. PHOTO: AMIR STOUDAMIRE“We have to break the stigma, we have to end the silence about depression and suicide,” Diaz says. Her passionate, angry voice trails off as she grinds her teeth on the last words: “If we can’t help our youth and help them to shatter the stigma around mental health…and shatter the silence…”

More dialogue and awareness about mental illness and suicide are at the top of Diaz’ list. And that means getting into the spotlight.

DSC_0190.JPGDiaz is founder and CEO of Lauryn’s Law, Inc. which a non-profit organization aimed at spreading awareness and education around mental health issues and bullying. Lauryn’s Law partnered with the Prince George’s County Office of Community Relations to host The Day Of Awareness Walk Oct 14. The walk started across from MGM in National Harbor and trekked across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and back (just over 3 miles). Over 150 gathered for the walk and more than half of them were under age 30.

Maryland State Delegate Dereck E. Davis“I lost my daughter three weeks after her 15th birthday,” Diaz told the marchers. “ I realized that what I had in my mind with regard to typical teen age woes and anger and things like that weren’t actually what was going on with her.”

Former NBA basketball player Michael Sweetney, a Prince Georgian who faced his own challenges with suicide, joined the walk to help let young people know there is a way out of the darkest corners.

Michael Sweetney got through his struggle with depression. He lost the NBA carer but gained life and family.

Michael Sweetney got through his struggle with depression. He lost the NBA carer but gained life and family.He knows the worst moments of how depression can lead anyone – especially a young person – to believe that there is no way out of their dilemma. When his father died of a massive heart attack just before Sweetney’s rookie season started, at 20, he was devastated. But with no one adequately recognizing his pain, he attempted to work through NBA training camp.

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“I went home to bury him and then come right back to training camp,” he recalls. “It was getting to me: the rigors of basketball, living in NYC without any family and it started digging a hole deeper and deeper. I hid it from people ‘cause I didn’t want to feel weak or seem crazy. Once that happened, it was the snowball effect. It got worse.”

One night, with a bottle of pills, he tried to end his life. He survived the attempt but it cost him a career in the NBA. He met Linda Diaz in 2015 and they have teamed to address the issue ever since.

Similarly, Alice Holt’s son Markeith, 43, hit the same wall in September 2011. But the outcome was different and he took his own life.

For Markeith: (r-l) Cortez Avery, Alice Holt (wearing her son Markeith's Steelers' jersey), Naisha Holt and a friend join the walk Oct 14 to aid suicide awareness and prevention.“It was like a thief in the night,” Holt says of losing her son so suddenly. “We talked on a Thursday night. He asked me to make food for the game. The Steelers were his team since he was three. Friday, he was gone. Just like that. Suicide is a heavy, heavy cross to bear. That’s why this walk is important, why talking is important. It’s why we need funding for mental health.”

Says Markeith’s sister, Naisha Holt: “It hit us all very hard. I wouldn’t have seen this coming in a million years. He was the one that everyone went to when they had a problem.”

Never forgotten: The boots of veterans whose lives were lost to suicide.Ever since, Holt’s office at work has been a bit of a shrine to his memory. The pictures and messages that cover her office were part of the routine visual that her boss, Director of the Office of Community Relations, Musa Eubanks noticed. In fact, Eubanks was so aware of Holt’s loss that when Linda Diaz’ efforts regarding a suicide walk came to his attention in 2015, he shared it with Holt. It all came home for Eubanks when earlier this year he lost a family member to suicide as well.

“We are very happy that so many of you came out today,” Eubanks said to the crowd moments before the walk began. “Suicide has taken too many lives. Suicide is about lives cut short. Let’s reduce those numbers.”

Sponsors included: Pepco, Keller Williams/Peace Team, MGM, and Heart & Soul Magazine. Maryland National Capital park And Planning Commission and The Parks Police. The event was a collaboration between a number of agencies such as The Office of Community Relations, Office of the County Executive, The Department of Social Services, The Department of Family Services and the Prince George’s Health Department.

Holt says: “You have to start somewhere. It started here at the Out of Darkness Community Walk Sept 17, 2015 for Prince George’s County. This is now the first awareness walk.” That’s how Holt met Linda Diaz – and became attracted to her passion to end the stigma. That effort grew into the Day Of Awareness Walk.

Although the walk was the first of its kind, the yearly attention to the issue is not new. Holt’s efforts at the office of community relations have been aimed at drawing attention to mental depression and suicide. According to Chief Stanley R Johnson of the Maryland Park Police Prince George’s County Division, the county ranks high in the state with regard to young adults and preventable deaths.

Says Johnson, a lifelong resident of the county with over 20 years on the force: “Among young people, suicide is the second leading cause of death. When it comes to suicide prevention there are so many warning signs. But first we have to start talking about the issues. This is where it starts.”

Event framers remembered U.S. military veterans and other first responders who lost their lives to suicide by placing their boots in a hallowed ground area of the gathering space.

As the speeches ended and the marchers began filing out to walk, the overcast and crisp coolness of morning was already giving way to shards of sunlight and warmer air. People who entered only knowing who they came with and for whom they were walking already began linking up with others who were there for the same reasons though from a different path.

Cortez Avery, Markeith’s best friend, arrived to walk with the Holt family. “He helped me to get out of depression,” Avery says. “To know that he was depressed and I wasn’t able to help him, really crushed me. So it’s really important that I be here today. Now.”

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