By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN – Black people don’t commit suicide. At least that was the consensus in the Black community, according to the Rev. Dianne M. Young, pastor of The Healing Center Full Gospel Baptist Church.
Young and her late husband, Bishop William M. Young Sr., were confronted with this fallacy in 2002 when a distressed church member took her life on the grounds of the church.
Her suicide devastated the Youngs. “We were already counseling and working with people,” she said, when the unthinkable happened. In 2003, they founded the “National Suicide and the Black Church Conference.”
This year’s conference (the 10th one) is slated for Wednesday, June 14, from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Thursday, June 15, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Southwest Tennessee Community College, 5983 Macon Cove.
The theme is “Anchored in Hope.”
Experts in the field will provide participants with a plethora of information such as signs (behavioral, social and emotional) to look for, and prevention and intervention techniques.
Dozens of presenters will join the conversation as well, including pastors, government officials, educators, clinicians, doctors and more. “We’re trying to save lives,” Young said.
That day at the church reminds Young that Black people are just as susceptible to suicide as any other group. Depression, she said, is the culprit that often drives a person to the brink of suicide.
“She stopped me that Sunday morning and said that she wanted to see me. I told her we would meet that Monday afternoon at 4:00,” Young recalls. The next morning, at 7:30, “We got a call from the church that somebody was lying on the ground.”
Young’s husband sped to 3885 Tchulahoma Rd. What he discovered was shocking. The woman was lying at the foot of the cross in front of the church. She’d used a pistol to end her life.
“That’s how the journey began,” said Young, who along with her husband had been counseling individuals over the years and facilitating mental health initiatives at the church.
Young is hoping this year’s conference, which will be available online as well, will attract as many attendees as possible now that her husband of 46 years is no longer with her.
Bishop Young died Oct. 9, 2022.
“We had conversations about how to carry on, what my role would be, and how to keep it going,” Young said. “This is what we saw as our purpose. I really haven’t stopped since William passed.”
Jay Barnett, a former NFL player, once suffered from depression. He attempted suicide twice. Now he’s a clinical therapist, author, and speaks unabashedly about the mental health of Black men.
He’s the conference keynote speaker.
Tamu Lewis will provide testimony. She is the co-founder and board president of the LTY Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping erase the stigma associated with mental illness.
Lewis launched the foundation as a living legacy to her brother, actor Lee Thompson Young, who lost his life to suicide in 2013. He was at the apex of his career when he succumbed to depression.
The conference is an extension to what the Youngs had been doing at the church. For example, they launched The Healing Center Wellness & Stress Clinic of Memphis in 1999.
They’d partnered with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, the University of Memphis, Rhodes College, local government, Memphis Area Legal Services, and the West Cancer Center.
In 2008, the Youngs opened the Emotional Fitness Centers of Tennessee, a network of 10 faith-based counseling centers and two satellite sites providing access to mental health care and substance abuse screenings in the African-American community.
“This is why the conference is so important,” Young said. “We got to do something.”
For more information about the National Suicide and the Black Church Conference, call 901-370-4673 or register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/559702744977.