by Ron’Zena Hill
For the Muleskinner
A mother clasps her son’s hand as she saunters to a table where beads lie. She nears the table clutching her son’s hand tighter before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. On her exhale, she slowly opens her eyes.
She begins reading what each bead symbolizes: white, loss of a child; red, loss of a partner or spouse; gold, loss of a parent; orange, loss of a sibling; purple, loss of a relative or friend; silver, loss of a first responder/military; green, personal struggle or attempt; blue, support the cause; teal, friends and family of someone who struggles.
Her hand trembles as she stops on red – loss of a partner.
Slow to pick up her beads and even slower to place them around her neck. She proceeds to add blue, then teal and hesitantly, green. She looks down at her little boy and gives a faint smile before withdrawing her hand.
This was one of many poignant moments during the sixth annual Out of the Darkness walk Saturday at the University of Central Missouri campus. The walk brought 270 people, which has quadrupled in size since its start in 2011. These walkers helped to raise more than $40,000 in funds to support research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention over the past six years.
April Roller, event coordinator and suicide prevention advocate, sought out to raise $4,000 for this year’s walk and more than doubled that by raising $8,780 from online, walk-up and bake sale donations.
“It is a very bittersweet feeling,” Roller said. “I am glad that our community is growing and we are able to reach out to help so many people, but knowing why the community is growing breaks my heart.”
As hundreds of walkers lined up to begin the walk around campus, there was a sense of love, community and support. Each family wore a t-shirt that displayed their loved one’s face, name or motto. Each family walked in remembrance of who they lost but also to bring awareness to mental illness and end the stigma surrounding suicide. Each family respected those around them and offered each other hugs throughout the marked path. At times families would stop to take in each family’s honor beads.
“Today I am wearing green honor beads which symbolize a personal attempt,” said a participant who did not want to be named. “It took everything in me to put these on, but as I walked around the event today I noticed I was not alone. There were men, women, and children who wore these beads. Seeing everyone wearing their green beads was very reassuring to me. It’s one of the first times that I have recognized it’s okay to not be okay and seeking help does not make you weak but instead strong.”
Mayor Bryan Jacobs read a proclamation for the city of Warrensburg, which stated that each second Saturday in Warrensburg, Missouri, would be known as Suicide Awareness Saturday.
Jacobs said to the crowd that his family has personally been affected by the strains of suicide and acknowledged April Roller and the volunteers for all their hard work that they put into the event to make it impactful and meaning for every family.