Community. This is what the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) creates for those who have been affected by suicide through their Out of the Darkness Walks. These walks take place all over the country, and on Saturday, February 4, AFSP held Orlando’s 10th-annual Walk in Baldwin Park.
As the nation’s leading not-for-profit organization for suicide-prevention research, AFSP works to provide education, awareness, and outreach to not only those with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide, but to the country as a whole. AFSP’s primary outreach and fundraising events are the Out of the Darkness walks; by bringing together people who have lost a loved one to suicide, people who personally struggle with depression, and those who simply support the cause, a strong sense of community forms around these gatherings.
A unique mix of people congressed at Baldwin Park for this year’s Walk on Saturday morning. Those who have been attending for years and those who are walking for the first time came together, all in support of the same cause: putting an end to suicide. As the walkers mixed and interacted, a powerful scene played out.
Groups of people wearing personalized shirts in memory of loved ones they have lost moved throughout the crowd. Couples walked their dogs, who sported AFSP “Paws for Prevention” bandanas. Pictures of those we have lost amassed on the memory board for all to see.
As the start of the walk neared, the sound of music, conversation, and laughter filled the air. This coming together serves as a powerful moment for all those lost, and for all those who have lost someone close to them. Vicki Long, the Central Florida Chair for AFSP and a member of the Psychology Department here at Rollins, said that since her father’s suicide, she had “found solace in others” who have lost loved ones. As the Central Florida Chair, Vicki strives to help “bring [suicide] out of the darkness” by taking away the stigma associated with it, which is just one of the many reasons why this walk is so important.
So at 9:30 a.m., with the glorious rising of the sun over Lake Baldwin and the annual releasing of the doves, the 2,000 walkers took off. All along the three-mile route around the lake, participants saw signs with facts about suicide and depression, people writing messages of love in sidewalk chalk, and walkers talking to one another, not with sadness surrounding the losses that brought them together, but with joy for a different future.
The walk around Lake Baldwin ended with a balloon arch, where groups celebrated in memory of the names they wore across their shirts. Booths were scattered across the park, including booths for To Write Love on Her Arms, Dance Out Bullying, New Hope for Kids, and the Gourmet Cuisine by Rollins College, which served as yet another way that those in attendance could interact and seek out resources.
Throughout the entirety of the morning, the mood was not as somber as some would think. Instead, it was the epitome of everything that the walk and AFSP stands for: love and hope.