Almost two years ago, I was in my hometown of Frederick, OK for an Out of the Darkness Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. These were my thoughts…
The city limits of Frederick, OK feel like a crime scene. Plots of land where mighty houses once stood dot the landscape. Downtown is quiet and filled with few businesses struggling to survive in our new economy; others are boarded up and closed for good. Some homes in neighborhoods where I once roamed are becoming dilapidated. The population is dwindling as generation after generation breaks free never to return. The small town of my childhood has become even smaller. For some, this means a new sense of charm. For others, the writing is on the wall. To alter a quote from Bob McDonald and Jim Youngren, a couple of real-estate agents in Seattle who were alive when Boeing threatened to leave the Pacific Northwest, “Will the last person leaving [Frederick] turn out the lights?”
Yet, here I am. I am here to walk through the heart of this little town in the southwest corner of Oklahoma in an effort to raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention. Of the communities hit hardest by suicide, men in rural communities are a group spiraling out of control. Economic hardships, addiction, and an ever-present culture of “real manhood” are all culprits. So, I walk. I walk because of a growing divide in this country between cities and towns. Resources are often directed toward population hubs leaving rural communities to defend for themselves. This newly minted city boy is here to say, I see you, hear you, and want to fight for you. I am here to fight for the lives of those who call small towns home.
Miles outside the city limits of Frederick, OK my own brother lost his battle with depression, addiction, and chronic pain. Naturally, with every step I take, I think of him. With my mother at my side and family members up ahead, I walk proudly, boldly, and with a deeply held belief that these steps are not in vain. They are steps in the right direction. Every time my tennis shoes make contact with the asphalt, I hope I am changing the conversation about mental health and addiction. In some small way, I hope lives are being saved today. If not in my hometown, then perhaps in some other neglected corner of the map.
I have no way of knowing what the future holds for communities like Frederick. Trends and data don’t paint pretty pictures. This means suicide rates will continue to be a force we must face. This is why I have dedicated myself to walking and raising funds for the rest of my life. So, be patient with me. You may think I need to move on to something else. You may wish that I find a different soapbox. Despite those feelings, I must push forward for men, women, and children like my brother. They need champions. Returning to the scene of the crime, reminded me of that.
Be good to each other,
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