Kent community comes together for Out of the Darkness Walk


 Luminaire memorials to individuals who committed suicide line the sidewalk of Risman Plaza during the Out of Darkness Campus Walk on April 18, 2015.

Tristan Buirley

After her personal struggles with suicide, Crystal Russell considers herself lucky to have made it to college. Russell, a graduate clinical mental health counseling major, raised $610 for the Out of Darkness Campus Walk, the second highest amount of money raised for the awareness event on Saturday.

“I used my personal struggle that I battled with to push me to raise the money,” Russell said. “Had I not had a good support system in place, the end of my story might have been a whole lot different.”

Russell’s struggle pushed her into becoming a counseling major and then into raising money and awareness for the walk. She was an English teacher but found herself getting tired of the systems behind teaching and just wanting to help the kids that she interacted with.

“When the opportunity came, I was just like ‘Of course.’ For me, it was a no-brainer decision,” she said. “I’m really big into social justice and advocating and bringing a voice to the people.”

Supporters of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Campus Walk gathered in Risman Plaza before walking a 3-mile circuit around campus to show their support for raising awareness across the country.

“Seeing a big group like this makes me excited for how people will approach the topic in the future,” Russell said.

AFSP does awareness walks around the country, with some events open to the public and some specific only to a college campus.

For each walk, supporters form teams, set a goal to raise a set amount of money and then reach out and receive pledges to reach that goal.

Most of the teams gathered on the plaza had colorful shirts signifying the organization or group they were there with and, for some, who they were walking for. Some shirts had the names of loved ones the groups were walking and raising awareness for.

The fundraising goal for the Kent State walk was $15,000, but the teams fell short of that goal by $684. That number doesn’t distract from the fight that some groups put up to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention.

One group, Kent State’s chapter of Chi Sigma Iota, an international counseling honors society, raised 340 percent of its $500 goal, totaling $1,698.

Each participant had their own story and reason for raising money and awareness. Judy Sallerson, another graduate clinical mental health counseling major and member of Chi Sigma Iota, wanted to raise awareness for those in military service. She served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“A lot of people that I know have been affected by suicide, so I want to bring light to that,” Sallerson said. Sallerson herself raised $350, the second highest raising member of Chi Sigma Iota, despite only being inducted into the society a week ago.

“Like everyone else, I want to raise awareness in suicide prevention too,” Sallerson said. “Twenty-two veterans die by suicide every day, and I want to see that number come down,”

The walk itself started around 4:15 p.m. When every group had gathered on the plaza, Laura Gorman Thomas, a representative from ASFP, spoke about the organization’s goals and where the money raised would go: The pledge money will fund safe talk programs and suicide prevention education around the country.

“We have to fight for mental illness in the same way that we fight for all other illnesses,” Gorman Thomas said.

The 3-mile walk took the supporters around Kent’s campus, including a brief stop at Taylor Hall for a water break, past the Centennial dorms and concluded at Risman Plaza. As the supporters walked, the solitary groups of color from each group slowly dissolved and intermingled as participants discussed suicide prevention with each other.

Phrases like “I wouldn’t be here without your support!” and “You pushed me to raise money and come here, so thank you” could be heard as the groups walked along front campus. Upon returning to Risman Plaza, group members put up white paper bag luminaire featuring encouraging phrases and names of those who died by suicide.

Russell said she hopes that the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk and events like it open up conversations for other people.

“Not many people want to approach the subject,” she said. “People seem almost afraid of it, and that’s not good. It was a huge thing for me to step up about my struggle, and I want to see that be made easier for future generations.”


Contact Tristan Buirley at [email protected]