Late last year, syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage, along with his partner, created a YouTube video addressed to young people of the LGBT community. The video was meant to inspire hope that although things are tough now, it will get better. After the response the video received nationally, the single video morphed into the “It Gets Better” Project, which featured similar video testimonies from those within the LGBT communities to those kids around the country, who might be subjected to ridicule and bullying or who may have contemplated suicide because of their sexuality.
The videos, which last no more than 5-10 minutes are sometimes emotional and most times inspirational. They send a positive message to young people that it is possible to not only survive their teen years but that there is a whole world of more accepting people awaiting them. I love the ideas of these videos. In fact, I began to believe that we need a similar project for little black kids.
Like last week, I read the gut-wrenching story of 10 year-old Jasmine McClain, who was found hanging in her bedroom. Her death had been ruled a suicide and many people suspect that she took her own life after enduring vicious bullying at school. Her tormentors took issues with her clothing and shoes; therefore, they felt that they were in the right to make her short existence on earth a living hell.
The story may seems out of the norm, especially with the widespread belief that black people just don’t one-themselves, however we are beginning to become more aware of stories of young black children, particularly girl children, contemplating or successfully committing suicide. Just a few days after McClain took her life came the less publicized story of 16-year old Shayna McEntire, an honor roll student and star athlete, who walked into traffic and killed herself. Her decision to end her life came after a painful breakup with her boyfriend.
According to a study, published in 2009, Black American teens, especially females, may be at high risk for attempting suicide. Generally speaking, suicide is the third leading cause of death in all teens in the United States and historically, black teens and young adults have lower suicide rates than white teens. But according to the study, in recent years the suicide rate for black youth has increased dramatically, especially among African American and Caribbean teen girls. There is some research, which suggests that because minority children often encounter racism in their daily lives, they are more prone to symptoms of depression. However, racial dynamics aside, our youth, particularly our little girls must endure criticism intra-racially about issues regarding their hair, skin tones and bodies. The kind of ostracization may lead some black youth vulnerable to low self-image, depression and yes even suicidal thoughts.