By JEANINE DeHONEY
I didn’t have to know her to love her. But I loved the twenty-two year old beautiful young brown woman named Karyn Washington who sadly, took her own life. Loved her like a mother loves a daughter she is proud of, or a sister loves another sisterfriend, or a follower loves a blogger whose words inspire and empower you to “be.”
She inspired me with her vision to fight colorism and help brown girls celebrate their beauty as the creator of For Brown Girls and what a visionary she was for spearheading the Dark Skin, Red Lip Project, which encouraged black women to wear red lipstick.
But Karyn was also in pain. A pain, I imagine that had been lurking in the background and came full circle when she became motherless. A pain I know so well when I go to dial my own mother’s phone number, momentarily forgetting in my longing for her, that she’s no longer here. For when do we ever stop needing the sage voice, the loving touch of our mothers?
But what I do know is that as a woman, especially a black woman, a mother, and a wife, I have been deep in that cavernous valley myself. If it wasn’t for my fervent prayers and fervent writing and the man I married whose arms cradle me and the family and friends who encircle me…well maybe, for a millimeter of a second I would have been that colored girl who considered suicide when the rainbow wasn’t enough.
There have been those in my life who have thought far beyond that millimeter. A relative who slit her wrists. Another who took pills. A friend whose abuse at the hands of her husband made her feel she had no choice but to end her life. Gratefully they are fine now, but that chapter in their life could have ended just as sadly as Karyn Washington and so many other women who felt the cross they bore was too weighty.
So where do we go from here? What kind of movement do we start to prevent the suicide of so many brown women and men—yes, men—whose spirits get just as trampled on and as parched as our own?
I think we have to tear down those walls that have been in so many black households for years. The walls that we built brick by brick to keep our dirty laundry behind closed doors. Those closed doors have led to our shame and our depression and our discouragement. Only truth, as gut punch wrenching as it might be, can set us free.
We who have been told we have that intuitive sense, that third eye, should heed that voice telling us something is off balance with our loved one. We have to stop assuming that just because they are laughing, going about their day, creating, and doing, that they are fine. They may be busy, but they may not be fine. Knock on their door unannounced and say, “Do you want to talk about it, and if not, I’ll be coming back each day until you’re ready. I’m here for you.”
And we have to realize that although we should each be a keeper of our sisters and brothers, sometimes we may not be able to stop their free will when their spirit is so profoundly bleeding. If we have done all that we could have done, we have to stand in that knowledge and find a slice of serenity even though our own heart bleeds from not being able to save them. We have to realize that we all have a tapestry that is fragile at times. And that our frayed threads doesn’t take away from our magnificence. It is okay to be weak, for when we allow ourselves to crumble to the floor, to wail, to scream, to get our angst, sorrow, frustrations off our shoulders, we can breathe and see that beam of light at the end of the tunnel. Our branches will sway in a strong wind, and some may weaken and ultimately break, but our roots are firmly planted in the opulent soil of the earth where we can gather strength if we hold on a bit longer.
We need a mantra. One we share with our loved ones that is purposeful, affirming, and sweet as molasses to fill us/them up as we journey through the ebbs and flows of life. Or a lyric from a song, to replay over and over on our car radio or in our head. Or a sage phrase from an elder to meditate on. We need a scripture, or a quote from our favorite author to imprint our spirit and nurture it.
We need to tout that it’s okay to seek professional intervention if you are so broken, so emotionally in pain, that your everyday song is filled with thoughts about not living, or how your family or friends would be better off without you. That stigma we have about seeking mental health services has to be eradicated. So many women and men are going untreated for depression, bipolar disorder, and post-partum depression, anxiety, etc. We no longer can avoid, suppress, or make excuses for the emotional pain, we or our loved ones or friends, even strangers feel. We have to advocate on their behalf, and even hold their hand as they take that first step to see a mental health professional.
Growing up, my father loved playing Nina Simone on our record player. One song of hers, “Brown Baby,” stays with me:
Brown Baby, Brown Baby
As you grow up I want you to drink from the plenty cup
I want you to stand up tall and proud
And I want you to speak up clear and loud.
When I reflect on those lyrics I pray that we all can drink from that “plenty cup,” and be pulsed with the expectation of living each day to wake up to see another, especially, when the rainbow isn’t enough.
Jeanine DeHoney has written for dozens of magazines and online publications, including Essence, Upscale, Family Fun and BlackandMarriedWithKids. She also is an essayist in Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul. DeHoney, a contributing writer for Esteem Yourself E-magazine, lives in Pennsylvania.