Walk raises awareness, brings suicide 'out of dark'
Detroit — Kathy Olenczuk lost her daughter Abbey Rose to suicide in May 2014 and each year she returns to walk with friends in her memory.
"When something like that happens to you, you desperately try to find a support system to help you through the grief," said Olenczuk, 50, of Livonia "This is my fourth walk and I feel like it's my one day to do something for Abbey and remember her life."
Olenczuk was one of more than 2,500 people who gathered in Hart Plaza on Saturday for the "Out of the Darkness Walk" to raise awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Proceeds from the walk invests in new research, creates educational programs, advocate for public policy and support survivors of suicide loss. About 45,000 people die by suicide each year in the country and the foundation hopes to reduce the rate 20 percent by 2025 through 5K walks in major cities. In the past year, they have raised $5 million, focused on bringing suicide out of the dark, said the walk's chairwoman Anne Perry.
Perry said people come to honor the lives of ones they've lost and others also come who are struggling with the mental illness for support.
"This is my fourth walk and I've raised $1,400 this year for the cause under 'Liyah's Light'," said Alliyah Morgan, a 22-year-old suicide survivor from West Bloomfield. "I come each year for the support with my family and to raise awareness. People are not as open to mental health especially in the African American community who are in denial and don't think they're depressed."
Perry said she lost her friend Mark to suicide in January 2007 and said she found the walk later that year when only 200 people were involved.
"We've grown so much, moving downtown after being at Kensington Park for over 13 years," said Perry, 40, from Beverly Hills. "We have 12 walks throughout the state for survivors of loss and people who may have attempted or who support the cause.
Many wore shirts and carried signs with photos of loved ones who committed suicide. The crowd gathered with arms wrapped around loved ones as the song, "1-800-273-8255" — titled for the Suicide Prevention Hotline — by rapper Logic played as the walk began.
This year, the committee added a military display because 20 active or military veterans commit suicide a day, Perry said.
Linda Burke's 40-year-old nephew, Sgt. David Allen Edmonds, committed suicide in March. She said he served in the Marine Corps for 12 years and fought in Afghanistan and Iraq for three deployments.
"At the time of his death, he was stationed in California and was a combat instructor for the School of Infantry," said Burke, 74, from Jackson. "He was a kind and gentle soul that suffered greatly from the horror of war. He is greatly missed by his family and marine family."
The walk plans to return to Hart Plaza next year at the end of September to continue their mission, Perry said.
"Suicide is everywhere… it’s something that needs to be talked about more, increase in education and prevention and something that should be more accepted," she said.