My sonshine, my heartbeat and the very center of my universe left this realm 14 years ago. He was a true renaissance man: a sophomore honor roll student on a full academic scholarship, an amazing artist and athlete with, I thought, everything to live for. However, in an intensely emotional moment he found my gun that had been locked up in my bedroom at my Atlanta home, which I’d purchased just to be closer to him while he attended Morehouse College. At the time, I was 600 miles away on a road trip to my main residence in Washington D.C. And just like that, life as I had known it for nearly two decades came to a screeching halt.
Kelvin Mikhail Smallwood-Jones was my only child and he was brilliant, funny, fun-loving, ambitious and compassionate. He had plans, too. He was planning to celebrate his 20th birthday in D.C. during spring break and had summer plans to complete a prestigious internship. None of that would ever come to be.
This painful experience has taught me that my son was like legions of young Black men out there today struggling privately with their mental health; their lives plagued by anxiety, depression, undiagnosed mood disorders and sometimes suicidal thoughts brought on by feelings of despair and an overwhelming sense of darkness. It hangs over their lives like a bloated storm cloud that they fear will never go away.
In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans, ages 15 to 24. The death rate from suicide for African American men was four times greater than for African American women in 2018. A report released in 2021 concluded that among Black male youth, suicide deaths increased by 47 percent from 2013 to 2019. Our Black sons need help and they need more access to culturally competent professional therapists who can help them sort through their feelings.
I wish I could tell you as a mother that it will be alright, but it will take time. The truth is it that life may never quite be the same. You’ll have moments where the dark cloud moves from that spot above your head and other times you’ll feel like it will be there for your remaining days on this earth. So, go easy on yourself. You’ll experience joy, but probably not in the same way as before. For a time, you may lose sight of your entire existence and struggle to see value in anything or everything you once coveted. Please know that you will never be alone on this long and winding road. There is help and support available to you.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 47,500 people taking their own lives each year. And I suspect that number is grossly inaccurate when you consider how many deaths go unclassified or misclassified, a reminder of the shroud of secrecy and shame that has long surrounded this public health crisis that continues to grip our country and the world. We need more education, prevention and treatment. And sis, like me, one day you may muster up the strength to be that voice out there raising awareness. Founding the Kelvin Mikhail Suicide Awareness Campaign has been cathartic for me. It’s also endowed me with a sense of hope and purpose at a time when I thought it was not possible.
Sadly, every time you hear about another mother who loses her child to suicide, like me, you will likely begin the grieving process all over again. There are going to be days when you’ll feel so alone and overwhelmed with grief, you may have suicidal thoughts yourself. Other days you’ll see signs, or as I call them, “gifts” from your son that reassure you that he’s always with you. I want you to know that you can get through this, all of it, day by day, minute by minute and, at times, millisecond by millisecond with the help of quality therapy. I send you healing energy and pray that you will survive. Please, don’t give up.
Know that from this fretful day that has bent your life forever, God is here and will wipe away your strife and the endless stream of tears that could fill rivers, oceans and seas. Know that He will cover and keep you. Know that with His help and that of other survivors of suicide like me, you don’t have to drown alone in sadness and despair.
We mothers join you in grieving like Mary did for her son Jesus. We send you love, peace, grace and gratitude to comfort you in this turbulence. May you be granted serenity as you transition into your new normal. Sis, know that we’ve got you. God’s got you. And your angel, your son, does too. Namaste!