2002-02-16 / Front Page

‘We’re Losing Our Black Brothers’

â018We're Losing Our Black Brothers'

BCHS Hosts Seminar On Black Male Suicide
By Gary G. Toms

Beach Channel High School, along with members of the Rockaway Youth Leadership Council, hosted a powerful seminar on black male suicide, on February 6, inside the school's auditorium. The presentation featured a skit developed by the Youth Mediation Corps, which told the story of a black youth who was on the verge of taking his own life.

During the introduction, Melysa Exolas, a member of RYLC who served as the host, talked about the seriousness of the issue and how something must be done to address what is fast becoming an epidemic.

"We are losing our black brothers at an alarming rate, and this cannot continue," stated Exolas.

Prior to the skit, Tropicana Cuza, Shalynn Pannell and Sylfronia King, sang a beautiful version of what has come to be known as the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice And Sing."

The skit dealt with how a young Black male was thrust into a severe depression as a result of failing grades, being kicked off the basketball team, being turned down by a major college basketball scout, and a recent break-up with a long-time girlfriend. As the days progress, he gets worse and worse, until it comes to a point where he starts telling those close to him that he is "going away." When his friends inquire about where is going, all he says is, "I'm going someplace where I don't have to worry about anything. I'll see you there one day."

Narrators offer solutions on how to deal with a person considering suicide, and what signs to look for, throughout the skit. Eventually, the young man comes to realize, through the help of family and friends, that people do care about him, and that he can get help to deal with his problems. Unfortunately, there are many young black men who do not experience this happy ending.

Bilal Karriem, who played the tormented youth, was very direct in describing the intent of the play.

"We wanted to let people know that young black males are committing suicide at an alarming rate," he stated. That seems to be an understatement.

Warren Barksdale, director of a suicide survivor project at Community Mediation Services, in Jamaica, Queens, spoke about the dramatic increase over the last 15 years.

"Our young black males are pretty efficient with suicides because they use guns. Ninety-six percent of the increase in black male suicides has to do with guns," said Barksdale.

Toward the closing, The RYLC (group members Bilal and Lamar) gave a slide presentation on the suicide statistics. From 1980 to 1995, the suicide rate increased 233% for male African-Americans 10 to 14 years old. Barksdale went on to point out that the suicide rate increased 146% for males between 15 and 19 years of age and was the third leading cause of death for the group.

The RYLC presentation mentioned that young black males are killing themselves because of their hopelessness about the future; extreme depression; battles with racism and prolonged unemployment.

Renee Holley, who directs the Community Mediation Services youth program, revealed that many people do not notice the "signs" of a suicidal person until it's too late.

"What we have found is that in our community, when people commit suicide, they've announced it before, and there's usually someone nearby who did not see the signs for one reason or another," she stated.

Some of the warning signs to look for include, previous suicide attempts; uncompleted attempts by the individual; explicit comments or statements about suicide; and developing a well constructed suicidal "plan" and acquiring the means to carry it out.

While guns were the number one cause of black male suicides, strangulation followed closely behind. The RYLC also noted that there was a direct correlation between states with strictly enforced gun laws and low rates of suicide.

For further information on this subject, you can contact Renee Holley, of Community Mediation Services, Inc, at (718) 523-6868 or www.adr-cms.org.

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