[featured in the American Association of Suicidology’s June 2011 Newsletter]
On a sunny Saturday in New York, more than two thousand people gathered in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza waiting to commence the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention’s annual Out of the Darkness Overnight walk. The crowd was suited up in pale blue personalized tee-shirts, each memorializing the person—and the reason—that brought them there that day. It was hard not to stop and read the back of each shirt, facing constant reminders of the cause that drew them all together.
“Tonight we bring a different energy to New York City, the energy to end suicide,” AFSP Executive Director Robert Gebbia told the enthusiastic crowd before sending them on their all night journey. “We are walking tonight because we won’t allow suicide to be kept in secrecy.”
AFSP has been hosting the Over-night for seven consecutive years. The primary walk moves to different major cities across America each year, while numerous local chapters hold smaller community walks over the course of the summer. The walk benefits research and education programs to prevent suicide, increase advocacy, and assist survivors of suicide loss.
The Overnight raises awareness in the cities that host the event. As the event unfolded, New Yorkers were obliged to engage with AFSP’s presence; Cadman Plaza was decorated with signs educating the public about the realities of suicide statistics and prevention. Walkers, too, served as emblems of their cause, often stopping along the eighteen mile route to explain the Overnight’s objective to curious residents who crossed their paths. The trail wove around Manhattan into the night, cutting through the city with the marvel of an unexpected parade and stirring affection and enthusiasm all along its path.
Many of the Overnight’s participants and volunteers have walked multiple times and find in the event an experience to reconnect with a national community that has bonded over this cause. Their combined energy and positivity seemed to prevail over physical exhaustion as the procession moved closer to dawn. While the first walkers finished as early as midnight, the majority arrived back at Cadman Plaza closer to four o’clock in the morning, when participants began to reconvene in front of the towering Korean War Monument to watch the closing ceremonies. Personalized luminaries lined the monument’s steps, illuminating dim beginnings of the sunrise.
Gebbia stepped back up to the podium and thanked the sleepy walkers for their dedication and support. “Because of you, we will never forget those we have lost,” he said, as the night faded into a new morning.