Proviso Residents Walk And Talk Well-Being After Recent Suicides

Sunday, April 14, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Featured image: Community members go door-to-door conducting well-being checks in Maywood on April 13. | Shanel Romain

Shania Collins, a 16-year-old Proviso East student, knew all three students who have died by suicide at the school since last November. Her brother, Stephen Collins, 18, is an ROTC cadet at East who helped show the ropes to the vibrant 15-year-old basketball player who died by suicide on April 5.

The siblings were among a group of roughly two dozen community members — equipped with handcrafted canes to shoo away loose dogs, bread for the needy and flyers on mental health — who went door-to-door on April 13 conducting well-being checks on Maywood residents. Another well-being walk that was scheduled to happen on Sunday was postponed due to weather.

Randall McFarland, the co-founder of the nonprofit Best of Proviso Township, helped organize the initiative, along with several others, including Noble Knights, an organization established by East alum Aaron Janovsky that confronts homelessness in the Chicago area.

McFarland said that he hopes the well-being walks will evolve into weekly staples, but that depends on how many community members volunteer to walk and lend resources to the campaign.

“I felt that it was necessary for us to disrupt the chain reaction that’s been going on,” McFarland said.

Saturday’s well-being walk was the most recent demonstration of support and solidarity among a slew of them that have happened since April 5, when news of the teenager’s suicide reverberated across Proviso Township and beyond.

Oak Park activist Anthony Clark, far right, joined community residents like Carwyn Steele, far left, a Rock of Ages youth minister, during Saturday’s well-being check. | Shanel Romain

Just a few days later, on April 8, a 25-year-old Maywood man died by suicide — that death, like an earthquake’s aftershock, thrusting the community into a state of suspended anxiety.

On April 8, WGN 9 reported on the most recent suicide at East. The report referenced a study published last week in JAMA Pediatrics, which revealed that the “number of children and teens in the United States who visited emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts doubled between 2007 and 2015” — from 580,000 in 2007 to 1.1 million in 2015.

“The average age of a child at the time of evaluation was 13, and 43 [percent] of the visits were in children between 5 and 11,” WGN reported.

As the Collins siblings walked on Saturday, they were still trying to process the most recent cluster of suicides in Maywood.

“For some students, it may be about parents not accepting them or supporting them,” said Stephen. “Some kids don’t really have anyone to trust or turn to in tight situations.”

Shania attributed the suicides to “anxiety and depression,” conditions she believes are common among her peers. Ironically, however, Shania said that she didn’t see any obvious signs of depression in her three peers who took their own lives.

“The three of them needed people who weren’t there,” Shania said. “They were holding onto something that they couldn’t let go, but they were good at hiding it.”

Stephen Collins, Shania Collins, Shantae Collins and Gary Smothers during Saturday’s well-being walk. | Shanel Romain

Jaleel Anthony, a senior at Proviso West and president of the high school’s student government, said that he knew the 15-year-old girl who died by suicide — he once dated her best friend and was among the first people to learn about her death.

Anthony said that District 209 has provided at least eight different resources for students, including an immediate crisis team, a hotline for students to call and partnerships with Loyola and Riveredge Hospital in Forest Park — the largest standalone psychiatric hospital in the state.

There have also been multiple student assemblies and community meetings both before and after the latest suicide. Anthony said that it’s high time that mental illness, particularly depression, come into central focus at the high schools.

“[Depression] is really common actually,” said Anthony while walking up to a house just a block south of St. Charles Road in Maywood. “I think it’s always been there, but people had to be so shut-up about it and nobody had the courage to say anything, especially when your parents are telling you, ‘You’re not old enough to know about depression. You don’t pay a bill.’”

Anthony said that, in the last few weeks, he’s travelled from house to house to sit with classmates who have been dealing with trauma. He and some other student-leaders are currently organizing a youth gathering scheduled to take place on April 28.

Jaleel Anthony, right, thinks that depression is common among students and adults at Proviso West High School. | Shanel Romain

“In my opinion, I think almost 80 percent of the school is dealing with depression,” he said. “And it’s not just kids, but adults, too. You can feel it. A lot of people don’t say it’s there, but it’s there. So it’s important that we get out here and do what we have to do.”

Rev. Byron Wicks, the pastor of Next Generation Church, 415 Lexington St. in Maywood, is no stranger to walking the community. Wicks said that he and his wife, Next Generation’s co-pastor Keisha Wicks, go door-to-door to minister to residents each Friday evening.

Byron said that even though his family didn’t know the 15-year-old who died earlier this month, they nonetheless have an emotional connection to the girl. On the Friday of her death, the family lost sleep.

“My wife tried to take her own life when she was battling depression, as well,” Wicks said. “She was an athlete, too. So there were similarities. That Friday morning, my son woke up and said he couldn’t sleep. And my wife woke up saying the same things. There was just a lot of spiritual activity, from my standpoint, going on.”

Randall McFarland, right, checks in on a Maywood homeowner during Saturday’s well-being walk. McFarland said that he hopes the walks can become weekly staples. | Shanel Romain

Byron said that, while it’s important to address the many symptoms of depression, he’d like for the community to hone in on root causes.

“Suicide is a symptom, but what led up to it is what we don’t often talk about,” he said. “We have to address the issue. The issue is fatherlessness. Where are the fathers?”

In her April 5 blog post, Keisha Wicks said that she attempted suicide after a basketball injury sidelined her for her entire senior year, just as she was trying to get recruited.

“At first, I had many letters of interest coming in from some of the best colleges but after the injury and announcement of a planned surgery, the letters started to dwindle,” she wrote. “My dreams felt shattered and my heart was left broken.”

Despite having a “support system around” her, she chose solitude, which left her alone with her thoughts. That’s when depression set in, she said.

“Though you see a silly smile,” Keisha wrote of a photo of her 18-year-old self posted above her blog post, “there was so much more going on behind it.” VFP

If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, 24/7 service that can offer support for suicidal individuals or those around them. You can also utilize the Crisis Text Line. Text 741-741 to immediately connect with a trained crisis counselor.VFP

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