New Orleans was our only city display on the Send Silence Packing Southern tour, and it was an amazing experience. Candace Daniels and Rachael Datz – from the national office in Washington, DC – came to help out at Lafayette Square. We also had students from the Active Minds chapter at Loyola University volunteering their time the entire day.
One of the things we like the most about doing a city display is the opportunity to reach out to a broader audience. When we’re at colleges, our main focus is the students. We will get campus employees and administrators interacting with the display, but they make up a small percentage since the majority of interactions are with college students. It gives Active Minds a chance to reach an audience that has young people in their lives that they can speak with about mental health issues.
At the end of a display in a city, I like to look back at all of the conversations that I’ve had with people and remind myself of how different each person was from each other, but how similar our conversations were. This brings up the important fact that mental health affects us all, and that mental illness doesn’t only affect one “type” of person. Mental illness doesn’t care about a persons age, race, socioeconomic status, or profession. This is especially coherent when I realize how many stories I hear from people that are connected with our movement in one way or another.
We were in the Business District of New Orleans and were surrounded by several offices. There were business professionals that came throughout the day to tell us that they kept looking out of their window and noticed all of the back packs set-up and needed to see what was going on. Once people heard about what we were doing, they shared their personal experiences of losing friends and family to suicide. Several people came down from their offices to tell stories, show us pictures they had taken from their window, and share gratitude for us being in the city. One man said that there were several people from his graduating high school class that had died by suicide, but that nobody would talk about it. Seeing the display and knowing that young people are working to end stigma toward mental health made him realize things are changing in a positive direction.
We got very similar reactions from the homeless population that interacted with the display. They shared their stories of loved ones that they lost and personal struggles with mental health. We had a couple add a story to one of the backpacks and volunteer their time to help us set-up and take down the display. I spent some time listening to their experience of traveling through the south without a home and how they have gotten help along the way. They also shared how they have helped others to cope with mental illness in positive ways.
The great thing that Send Silence Packing does in a city is bring people from all different places in life to one event. There are so many people in big cities that are having so many different life experiences that they forget how similar we are to each other. People forget that we can help each other and that people care, even if they are a stranger. Send Silence Packing reminds a lot of people – or teaches people for the first time – to speak up and reach out when you notice someone struggling. It shows us that it is okay to ask for help when we need it, no matter who we are.
Hello all! We are currently in Birmingham, AL. We just finished our fantastic (and very windy) display at University of Alabama – Birmingham. We drove in from New Orleans, LA last night and we’re looking forward to Atlanta later this week.
The only thing New Orleans wasn’t very good at was internet in our hotel room. Now that we have working internet, keep an eye out for lots of new blogs from the last couple stops that we’ve had !!
I also wanted to share something. Brandon and I watch lots of Ze Frank while on the road. He’s a funny guy that makes great videos about all kinds of different things. This one in particular stood out to me – especially since we’re on tour. I hope that others will appreciate this the way we did:
After our very long drive to Texas, it was time to begin our display at Collin College on Tuesday morning. It was a bit colder than we expected Texas to be, but the sun didn’t wait long to give us great weather for the display. There were several community and campus groups and resources that were available throughout the day, as well as supportive administration, students, and campus employees.
The campus started off the day with speeches from the officers and advisor of Active Minds at Collin College. The president of Collin College, Cary Israel, gave a speech as well as the Mayor of McKinney, TX, Brian Loughmiller. It was a great feeling to know that Active Minds and Send Silence Packing have the support from such important people at the college and in the community. Not only did Israel and Loughmiller take time out of their day to support the cause, they invited other prominent members of campus and the city to see the impact of Send Silence Packing. They both touched on the importance of mental health and what people can do to help erase the stigma associated with mental illness. President Israel stated that “It’s good to remember, to remember [loved ones lost to suicide].” It is important because remembering is a way to help others that are struggling and a way to help survivors that are coping with someone that they have lost.
There were two performances during the display. The first was Jed Harris, a professor of psychology at Collin College. He has written a song for the Love Is Louder program that the Collin College Active Minds chapter participated in, and he is currently working on a song that he wrote for Send Silence Packing. He played his guitar and sang as students interacted with the display, stopping to talk to students that were interested in what was going on. We also had Kassy Levels perform in the afternoon. She is a 16 year old singer/songwriter that has been singing since age 9. Her sister and father are part of her band, and they perform all over Texas. She performed cover songs as well as songs that she had written herself. Having Jed Harris and Kassy Levels as part of the display set a tone as people walked through the back packs. Having music at the display is a reminder of the soothing qualities of a guitar or the way a song can make you feel better when you are having a rough day.
The display also had a visit from Dancing For a Cause, who performed a routine in the afternoon as well. Dancing For a Cause is a student group on campus that comes together to dance as well as volunteer in the community. There were a few professors that brought their class to the display, including an Art Appreciation class that worked on abstract pieces inspired by Send Silence Packing. Active Minds at McKinney was also supported during the display by SOBI- Strategies of Behavioral Intervention, Hope’s Door- a domestic violence advocacy group, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Collin County, and COGS- Collin Organized Geek Society.
The day was full of inspirational programming unique to Collin College. Having the support of the campus, the community, and many students that came to interact with Send Silence Packing is an amazing feeling. Talking about suicide and mental health is not always well received, which is why we continue to work hard to break the stigma associated with it. Being in McKinney, Texas showed us proof of entire communities dedicated to changing how people view mental health. And that is a good feeling.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was our third stop on the Send Silence Packing tour. We spent the day working with a dedicated group of volunteers and interacting with the various student groups that performed during the display. The Active Minds chapter at UNC worked with the Counseling andWellnessCenter, who had staff present for the afternoon. Rachael Datz, UNC’s regional chapter manager, also joined us for the events.
Our location was perfect for the display to grab the attention of students and faculty that were walking through campus. It didn’t take long for someone to come up to me and ask “What are all these backpacks for?” The students at UNC were especially curious about Send Silence Packing being on campus. Aside from the 40+ students that signed up for the Active Minds UNC mailing list, several students started conversation with staff and volunteers about multiple aspects of mental health. They had amazing questions and concerns that evoked a lot of thought, emotion, and deep conversation throughout the day. I could tell that we were already making a noticeable impact on campus, which was nice- because when you work in non-profit, you don’t always get to see the change you make working so quickly.
Family members of Eric Bryant, a UNC student who was lost to suicide in 2010, were present at the display. They donated a backpack and a story for Eric that will travel with Send Silence Packing. Barry Bryant, Eric’s uncle, and his family were grateful for Active Minds and Send Silence Packing and the impact it has on college students. We are also thankful for their support and strength while reaching out to students and other families that may be struggling with suicide and mental health issues. Barry continues to educate people and is currently planning a golf outing in memory of Eric.
UNC’s chapter president, Priya Balagopal, played a huge role in planning and organizing the event. In addition to bringing Send Silence Packing to UNC, she got three different acappella groups – Harmonyx, UNC Walk On’s and the Achordants – and three spoken word groups – EROT (Ebony Readers Onyx Theatre, UNC Wordsmiths and Rejects – to perform throughout the day. The acappella groups had beautiful performances that drew even more interest in the display. Harmonyx stopped an entire tour group as they were being led through campus! The spoken word groups were a powerful addition to the Send Silence Packing event. The student’s performances touched on several different topics of mental health. They spoke of their personal experiences with mental health and carried stories of pain and struggle mixed with hope and triumph.
Students have an amazing way of connecting through experience and support. We see that in action with every campus we visit, and hope to continue that connection with future stops.
We started the Fall 2012 tour at Howard University in Washington DC. The weather was wet all day, but the rain didn’t stop us from having a day full of education and inspiration.
Howard University had the honor of having Chamique Holdsclaw speak at their display. Chamique is Active Minds’ national spokesperson and former WNBA player that has struggled with mental health issues. She speaks around the country to share her story and inspire others. Her voice is important because she helps to erase the stigma associated with mental health, especially in sports and the African American community.
During her speech she talked about feelings of guilt and anger paired with overwhelming feelings of being alone while she was struggling with clinical depression. When she found the help she needed, she began to realize the power of hope and persistence. Something that stood out as I was listening to her speak was Chamique saying that she knows that “It’s okay to tell people I’m weak and I need help.” It’s important to remember that it is okay to ask for help when you need it and to rely on family, friends, and other resources in your life when you are struggling. Chamique reminds us of the power we have when we works together to help others and ourselves.
Howard University’s women’s basketball team attended the speech, and were able to talk with Chamique afterward and get pictures and autographs. It is great to see students interacting with someone they view as a hero and to hear the journey of someone they admire. The students were also able to participate in a documentary that Chamique is being filmed in. Howard’s Active Minds president, Marshele Bryant, was interviewed for the documentary and described the Send Silence Packing event as a huge success for the campus. Most students that I spoke with had one thing to say: how can I help? There were several students interested in joining Howard’s Active Minds chapter and learning more about what they can do to erase the stigma on mental health. Seeing this kind of response at a Send Silence Packing event shows great things for the future of Howard University and mental health on their campus.
This was a great start to our Fall tour, and we are ready for the next six weeks! We are reaching a whole new region with this tour and we’re excited to spread the word in the south. We are going as far west as Texas, and we’ll be finishing the tour at the National Mental Health on Campus Conference in Orlando, Florida. We look forward to sharing our message and Send Silence Packing with new colleges and universities. Let the journey begin.