On the night of June 17th, while many were sleeping, a group of the Rehumanize International crew volunteered at the Overnight Walk in Washington D.C. The walk was run by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and took place at night, so the end of the journey in the wee hours of the morning represented literally walking out of darkness.
Aimee, Rosemary and the interns, Emily, Paige and I, were all designated as route marking fix-it crew, which meant that we split into two groups and drove along the sixteen mile route making sure the signs directing walkers were clear and direct, so none of the walkers became lost. It was extremely interesting to drive around Washington D.C. along the route because it encompassed many sights such as the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and The White House, as well as quaint neighborhoods like Georgetown.
One of the elements of the event that I found to be very uplifting was that crew members were also encouraged to participate in the event as much as possible, while still completing whatever task was assigned. This meant that crew members wrote who they were dedicating their time to on the back of their shirts, received honor beads that represented different things depending on color such as whether you are or have struggled with mental illness, have a friend or family member who struggles, lost a friend or family member due to mental illness, etc. and were given free snacks along the route. Then, at the end of the night, crew members were encourage to walk a short path along the walkers to the finish line signifying that both crew members and walkers took part in their own way to raise awareness to end suicide.
Overall, the night was extremely tiring, but also empowering. Emily and I mainly volunteered while driving in a van with two older ladies who openly shared their stories of why they were participating in the walk. This led to another fantastic element of the event, opening up conversations surrounding mental health in a productive way instead of leaving things unsaid. The ladies discussed how when they were young nobody spoke about mental health problems leaving them to feel alone in what they were dealing with, as well as feeling confused and uncertain in how to proceed. They contrasted their experiences to how now conversations are much more wide open and urged Emily and I to contribute in our generation’s need to keep forging ahead with education and discussions surrounding mental health and suicide, so that everyone’s health is taken seriously and suicide ends for once and for all.