If you weren’t aware, September has been designated as Suicide Awareness Month. Though many view suicide as a selfish act by people seeking attention, this month is used to promote awareness about the circumstances that can lead a person to take his/her own life. The mental anguish that some endure is simply too much to bear, and death is seen as their only reprieve.
One instance of suicide that everyone (especially those in the Black community) should be aware of is that of Kalief Browder, who took his own life earlier this year at the age of 22. He didn’t do it for attention. He had been tortured by the American justice system after being incarcerated unjustly at 16-years-old. He was arrested for the robbery of a backpack he did not commit as he walked home on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx in May of 2010. He was locked away in the infamous Rikers Island for three years, unable to make bail. Those three years were volatile for Kalief, as he was abused by Rikers staff and inmates, alike. He spent two years in solitary confinement. He had a failed suicide attempt at Rikers.
Kalief was released in June 2013 when his case was dismissed after years of postponement. He attempted to move on and live life, pursuing an education at Bronx Community College. However, due to the physical, mental and emotional trauma that he was subjected to, Kalief suffered from panic attacks and other symptoms of mental illness.
Today, on the last day of Suicide Awarness Month, spoken word/hip-hop artist and community activist Messiah Ramkissoon has used his talents to eulogize his fellow New Yorker with a lyrical tribute. Ramkissoon has many credentials, such as being an Apollo Amateur Night winner and featured speaker at the dedication of Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC, but some of his best work is that with young men in Rikers and other jails. Naturally, Kalief Browder’s story struck a chord with him. Ramkissoon gives his reasoning for doing the tribute:
Kalief represents each one of us as Black men in a world where you can get accused and snatched away from your family simply for walking while Black. It was also inspired by the fact I’ve followed his case from the very beginning, and I spent the past three years counseling Black and Latino male adolescents on Rikers Island, ages 16-21 via mentorship/counseling and the creative arts. Aside from our intense discussions in the classroom, I also host a poetry styled open mic night at Rikers, giving young people a healthy outlet to express their thoughts to relieve tension while also coaching them on writing tips and performance techniques. Prior to my three years doing such on The Island, I spent 5 years doing the same work in DC and Baltimore jails via several nonprofit organizations. As a result, this Kalief Browder story hits close to home because his face mirrors each of these young men who’ve suffered the abuse, mental trauma and injustices he experienced.
Check out the video below. This track will be featured on Messiah’s next mixtape The Reminder coming on 10-10-15. To keep up with Messiah Ramkissoon, follow him on Twitter at @AllMessiah and/or visit his website: www.AllMessiah.com
If you have been contemplating suicide or know anyone who is struggling with those thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255