Suffolk unites against the darkness

Published 11:10 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

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It was an emotional Saturday morning as Suffolk residents came together for one common goal: to help raise awareness toward suicide prevention. Benefiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the 7th annual Out of the Darkness Suffolk Walk held on Saturday, Oct. 21, at Bennetts Creek Park saw many come out to honor loved ones lost to suicide, combat the stigma against mental health and provide support to those suffering. Opening the ceremony, Suffolk Interim Chief of Police James Buie welcomed attendees while acknowledging the shared pain that united attendees.

“Unfortunately, it’s one of these events that I am really happy to see everybody here, but I wish that nobody was here. I wish that the park was empty right now, and if that were the case, then we’d all be living a happier life right today,” said Buie.

Along with the Presentation of Colors and national anthem by the Lakeland High School JROTC and Smithfield High School Chorus, respectively, a moving invocation was given by Liberty Live Church Harbour View Pastor Corbett Casteen. After heartfelt remarks from ASFP Virginia Chapter Secretary Shannon Sullivan, Sentara Obici President David Masterson and Anthem HealthKeepers Behavioral Health Clinical Director for Medicaid Line of Business

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Dr. Alyssa Ward, FM 99 News Director and Co-Host of Rumble in the Morning Sean Hood presented the Honor Beads Ceremony, where participating individuals wore various colors of beads to silently represent the pain they hold and the connection they share. Examples of colors include green for a personal struggle or attempt, purple for the loss of a friend and red for the loss of a spouse or partner.

“Each of us has our own story and reasons for being here, and today, I am joined by these brave people who are here to share just a piece of their story with us. Gathering here we remember those reasons and we share a symbol to keep them in our sight and in our hearts: the beads,” said Hood. “Our honor beads pay tribute to a loved one lost, a personal struggle, or even a victory. They come in many colors, representing the diversity of our community’s connections to today’s cause.”

After the ceremony, attendees gathered to walk five laps across the park to honor their loved ones. Each lap represented five values: Passion, Community, Harmony, Impact and Well-Being. Following the walk and closing ceremony, both Hood and Walk Co-Chair Jenny Swinson took time to express

“It’s just so nice to have everybody that showed up today. We had beautiful weather, but a great community coming together for positivity and change in our own neighborhood,” Swinson said.

Hood expressed that he and FM 99’s goal is to continue to involve themselves in local events with a great cause.

“The Out of the Darkness Walk is actually something I wanted to be a part of previously and haven’t had a chance to. I’ve lost people in my own life. I know people who are struggling with it. I’ve had my own struggles. So it’s important to me to be able to represent the station and all the listeners as well, and just coming out here seeing all these people — I’ve given more hugs to strangers than I’ve done in a long time,” Hood said. “It’s been a great day. I’ve been pleased with the turnout, and the community’s amazing.”

On the fundraising goal, Swinson says their objective is $50,000 by the end of the year.

“Right now, we have a recording fundraising effort of $30,207, and that does not include all of the online donations and raffles that we’ve collected today. So I have faith that we are going to hit our goal,” Swinson said.

On the future of the Out of the Darkness Walks, Hood expressed his hopes at some point, they will no longer be needed.

“I hope that we can get to a enough people and provide enough services and outreach to people that this walk is never needed, but until we reach that time, I just want it to keep growing, more people to understand there’s people out there to help them and to learn that you’re not alone. No matter what you’re going through,” Hood said.

Swinson expressed how “bittersweet” it is to meet someone connected to the cause. She gave some final words of support.

“If you are struggling, I encourage you to reach out to your loved ones because I promise they want to hear from you. And if you are not comfortable with doing that, there’s always the 988 hotline,” Swinson said.

If you are in crisis, please call, text, or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For more information or to donate, go to