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Erica Kennedy: What Her Passing Teaches Us

Erica Kennedy's battle with depression leads many to realize there's no shame in seeking help.
On Friday afternoon I learned of the death of Erica Kennedy, author of Bling and all-around beautiful Black feminista rock star. When I received the email, I immediately thought, “Was she sick? Was it cancer? How can someone so young and full of life be gone?” Later on that night, as I checked my Facebook news stream, and according to those who knew her best, she had been suffering from depression.

As I read the postings, stinging tears streamed down.

I understood her pain.

I’ve been there.

As of this writing, no official cause of death had been released, although the word on social media seemed to link it to her depression. I don’t know if Erica sought help, but if the buzz is confirmed, I do know this: We as Black women have to stop holding it in and start letting it out. Tell somebody. Find somebody to listen. Don’t be afraid. We have to stop pretending everything is okay, like Superwomen on steroids, and start admitting that we can get vulnerable. And sad. And low. And that’s okay.

And that doesn’t mean you have to give up your strong-Black-woman card. And that doesn’t mean you have to downgrade your type A personality to a D-. All it means is that you are human. And that you feel things. And that sometimes we all need help sorting out this stuff that can sometimes eat us alive inside.

Therapy has been my saving grace. I meet with a beautiful Black sister-woman Ph.D. not far from my home whose office is so zen, and spirit is so on-point that I thank God for bringing her into my life. I see her every other Saturday morning, for one hour that I decided more than a year ago was essential to my self-preservation. We talk, and talk some more. I tell her everything that’s on my mind, and in return, she has helped me through some serious rough patches, and given me a number of tools that have helped me evolve from pain to peace.

Sure, I’ve had friends who scoff and say, “Girl you don’t need therapy, you need Jesus.” (And by the way, I am a Christian.) I’ve had family members give me the side-eye when I talk about seeing a therapist. And sadly, I think that kind of response is why so many Black women would rather suffer in silence rather than reach out.

My plea to anyone who is hurting like this: don’t let someone else’s snap judgments prevent you from getting the help you need to get over this hurdle. You are too important to this world. God put each one of us here for a purpose. Your light is precious. And important.

If you need help, ask. I promise you: someone will answer.

Vanessa K. Bush is the executive editor of ESSENCE magazine.