…I’ve been there. I’ve been suicidal and I can tell you without a doubt that it gets better if you just hold on. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was growing up in inner city Boston at the height of what was called the “Crack Epidemic.” Across America, inner city neighborhoods in particular were being ravaged by crack cocaine. As a teenager, so many young black men were dying or being incarcerated, that some of us took to wearing shirts saying “Young Black Men: endangered species.” There was not an expectation that I would even make it to my 18th birthday so part of me thought: “Why try?” Those circumstances alone were enough to make me feel like I had no reason to live but in the case of anyone thinking of taking their lives, there’s always more going on.
In addition to living in a crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood and being bullied at school, I also did not grow up in the best economic situation. My self-esteem took a hit in middle and high school because I did not have the nicest clothes. We also fell on tough times at home, often having to go without electricity, heat, or even hot water. So outside of my home I felt like I could just be killed at any moment and at home, I didn’t always feel comfortable given that a rat could run by my cold feet at any given moment. These two issues would be more than enough to make me feel worthless but of course, there’s always more.
In retrospect, the biggest challenge I faced that drove me close to suicide was the absence of my father during my seventh grade year. My parents have spent their entire lives fighting for the liberation of oppressed people, especially in the Congo, their place of birth. In the late 1980s, my dad was attacked in a central African country and left for dead after his head was bashed in with a crowbar. He spent much of my 7th grade year overseas in a coma. My hero was gone and now I was ready to be too. I just got tired of being broke, fatherless, and having to fear for my life everyday. I looked at the knives in my kitchen on a daily basis and knew I could just end it all right there. Two things happened during this time that changed my thinking and life forever.
The first life-saving event occurred at a youth conference I attended. A speaker said: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” What? Are you kidding me? It’s not going to be like THIS forever? I don’t know if I truly believed her words then, but the seeds had already been planted subconsciously by her words. The second event occurred when my sister actually confronted me about my suicidal thoughts. I had mentioned my thoughts to a youth counselor and he told my sister. She tearfully told me how much I would be missed by our family if I took my own life. Being that I never wanted to be one to disappoint anybody (especially my family), I decided to stick around a little longer. Prolonging my life was the best decision I ever made in my life. If you are thinking of committing suicide, I need you to please finish reading this blog post in hopes of changing your mind.
Let me tell you about my life now. I am writing this post from a hotel in upstate New York where I am getting ready to provide a motivational talk to 400 students at a high school. Motivational speaking is my passion. I am actually even getting paid nowadays to share my passion. When I finish speaking, I will get in my car and drive back to my house in Washington, DC where I will then kiss my wife who has been with me since we were junior prom dates 20 years ago, and then I will hug and kiss my two beautiful daughters and talk to them about their day. After that I’ll take another look in shock at the article I had published in O Magazine, the picture of myself on the cover of a national magazine, and think about how I am going organize my 8th album before I do some reading for my doctoral studies. Am I saying these things to impress you? Absolutely not. I am saying these things to impress upon you that if you give yourself a chance; if you just hold on for a little longer, your life will turn around.
If anyone told me as a teen that I would be living the life I’m living now, I would have told them to go do something not too nice to themselves. The fact of the matter is that someone believed in me. Someone right now believes in you and, as Les Brown said, sometimes you have to let someone else’s belief in you hold you together until you develop the ability to believe in yourself. If someone is telling you to hold on or to wait another day, do them a favor and play along with them. You will eventually outlast your bully. You will outlast the teasing. You will outlast the racist, homophobic, classist, and sexist slurs as well as the ignorance directed towards you because of your religion. It does get better and if no one told you they believe in you then let me be the first. The only reason I am writing this blog is because I believe in you.
You may be the next president of something or the next Superbowl halftime star. You might invent a phone that makes the iPhone look like a Lego set with earphones. More important than all of that, you may just have a normal life that you cannot imagine because you live in so much turmoil now. Trust me, it gets better. Life can be good to you if you let it be good to you. Let the people in who care for you. I let my family in and they saved my life. You may not have a strong family that has your back like I did but there has to be someone: a teacher, mailman, store clerk, or a friend in class who believes and sees good in you. Someone you know and maybe someone you do not know, believes in you and if you think hard enough about it, you can identify that person. As it has been said, we can find a thousand reasons why we cannot accomplish our goals when all we need is one reason why we can. Find that one reason and hold on to it for dear life. Brown says you were picked out to be picked on, which basically means you are not given anything that you cannot handle. Your work here is simply not done.
Don’t short change yourself by taking your life. Don’t let the bullies win. They may be working for you one day since they spend no time building their own dream, just trying to destroy yours. Don’t short change the world of the good that you may do for humanity. Let the good in. Let the bad out. Find that one person who believes in you. Find that one reason to keep going. Get counseling at school or elsewhere. Maybe you have a sibling who needs you and you hold on for that sibling until you can do it for yourself. Use your survival as an example for others to follow. I’ve spoken to almost 100,000 youth across the globe. Some have said that they stopped thinking of suicide after they heard me. Imagine that. You can actually go from wanting to take your own life to saving the lives of other people. How’s that for a turn around? You have a lot of life to live so get busy living! You were not born to die. You were born to thrive. If you just stay the course, it will get better. Don’t kill yourself. Just give yourself a chance by deciding to live.