"He was always smiling."
A year and a half ago, as a senior at Elon University in North Carolina, I got word that one of my classmates, Demitri Allison committed suicide. This death shook me not only because Demitri and I played football against each other when we were in high school, but also because he was someone many people knew by his smile and outward happiness. However, he was hurting inside.
Fast-forward to last May, I graduated from Elon University and moved across the country to Colorado Springs for my first-ever, post-grad job. Come October, I had started Car Window Poetry and was gearing up to be featured on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. Also, around this time, I learned nightmarish news about my new city: Colorado Spring was, and still is, facing a teen suicide cluster.
Max Kutner, who covered this epidemic in Colorado Springs for Newsweek, explained suicide clusters as being when "an unusually high number of people in an area kill themselves (or attempt to) in a short period of time." Over the past two years, there have been nearly 30 teen suicides in Colorado Springs, including a teen boy who killed himself just last weekend. In the United States, our suicide rate is at the highest it's been in 30 years.
These young boys and girls who are killing themselves are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, classmates and friends. They have stories that matter, amazing potential to change the world, and they deserve to know that they are loved.
There's a quote that says, "If you assume the person you're speaking with is hurting, then, 95% of the time, you'll be right." I don't know if the math is correct, but I know I'm not alone in not always feeling like I'm enough, or that I matter. I have days where I wonder if anyone really loves me. I bet you do, too.
Through Car Window Poetry, I believe all of us, especially students, have an opportunity to let the people we rub shoulders with every day know that we care. I believe there are thousands of kids out there who can help change their classmates' lives, and ultimately their schools and communities, by sharing encouraging poems. Because words matter. The more words we share, the more those words have an opportunity to meet someone who may need them.
A few months ago, Whitney sent me the following email:
That's the power of words, and you have words to share.
Powerful words. Words that can give hurting humans hope.
Words that can give classmates a reason to stay alive.
If you believe your words have power and want to begin sharing encouraging poems at your school, apply to start a Local Chapter now!