In a perfect world, Jamel Myles would still be alive.
The 9-year-old took his young life last Thursday after being taunted and bullied by student peers for being himself -- for being gay. Days before returning to school after the summer break, young Myles revealed to his mother that he was gay and wanted to wear feminine clothing and be out about his sexual orientation at school.
Leia Price was supportive of her son’s decisions to be and do so. However, she now feels guilt for not being able to save him from harming himself. Price found her youngest child hanging in his bedroom and tried to revive with CPR, but it was too late.
The fourth grader is described by his mother as a “beautiful” and “magical,” warm-loving kid, who played dress up in a tiara and heels, but also “wanted to see everyone happy even when he wasn’t.” That he was lambasted for trying to realize happiness for himself -- to the point of suicide -- is confirmation that bullying tactics are well established and have horrifying effects.
Three months ago, Ja’shya Williams had had enough by the time she reached the rooftop of the East Harlem apartment building where she grew up. On May 24, she took an irreversible leap of fate. According to the NY Daily News, the 11-year-old daughter of actress Princess O’Garra, who stars in TIDAL’s Money & Violence, jumped from the 16-story building to her death, leaving her mother and loved ones behind to mourn.
Both Myles and Williams’ deaths punctuate a disturbing trend: children committing suicide as a means to escape their pain. A little known fact is black children are affected gravely. A 2015 Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) study shows suicide among Black children between ages five and 11 doubled between 1993 and 2012, and the number of suicides steadily increase with age, a researcher conveyed to U.S. News. Researchers and epidemiologists cite the “likely exposure to violence and traumatic stress and “aggressive school discipline” as contributing factors of Black children’s suicidal tendencies. For Myles, Williams and others, the catalyst was bullying.
In Williams’ case, the fifth-grader was tormented at school and troubled beyond anyone's belief. Allegedly, the school was aware of her circumstances, but in an Instagram post, Williams’ mother claims she was never informed. O’Garra’s comments alludes to the school not following protocol. Reportedly, Williams’ friends were aware of the bullying she endured, and that she was bothered by it; but perhaps they did not know to what extent. Eventually, the young girl shared her intentions with Snapchat users just before following through.
Last week Thursday my beautiful, smart, loving, caring and BRAVE BRAVE daughter thought in her mind that she could fly. #NYCHA did not provide her a chance to think other wise because they allowed their roof door to have no type of safety precautions on them and the door opened easily for her. As a parent you want to know that not only your apartment is safe for your children but also the building you live in and the school they attend. I have been let down and failed. But here’s the thing, Ja’Shya is a child with a voice because her mother has a voice and I will speak out to make sure this NEVER happens again to another child. There will be safety precautions on all #NYCHA buildings and there will be new protocols in the schools regarding contacting parents for anything with their child, especially fights or scuffles. Also this #SocialMedia stuff, we must not allow them to use it if they are not 13 and up. My daughter snuck to use it because she thought that was the only way she could fit in. I explained to her that social media is not that much older than her, but she didn’t get it and neither does her peers. We must make sure these children are allowed to be children, playing outside, meeting parents because they have to knock on the doors instead of sending a text. We must attack this social media, these #Netflix shows #13reasonsWhy and music NOW. Because there is a spiritual warfare on our children that we must FIGHT, NOW! #afatherslove #swipeleft video courtesy of @afatherslove54 @ablastfilms_ceo
Williams is one of several black children to make headlines for taking their own lives due to bullying and/or other trauma; and she is among others who used social media to spread the word. In 2016, 14-year-old Nakia Vent took to Facebook Live and hanged herself in her bathroom while her parents were sleep in the next room. A friend witnessed Vent’s suicide and alerted police who arrived at the girl’s home too late save her life. Ashawnty Davis, 10, succumbed to bullycide six months ago when she hung herself in a closet after a bullying incident-turned fight, was caught on camera and uploaded to a social media site. 10-year-old Jaheim McKenzie died after being beaten by his mother, who admitted to choking him and whipping him with an extension cord before he ran into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and plunged it into his chest.
The recent study revealed a likelihood of racial disparity which needs to be addressed. Due to a stable overall rate of child suicide which has spanned 20 years, the increased suicide rate among Black children went unnoticed. For this reason, we must pay closer attention to this demographic beyond statistical data. Suffice to say, violent, traumatic or aggressive conditions are not the only triggers causing black kids to take their own lives. It is not a stretch to attribute issues of race, gender, identity, self image, mental health, et al., as factors as well.
Bullying can not underestimated. The shaming and hazing of children needs to come to a full stop; perhaps having greater consequences for bullies, especially if it means saving a life.
Many parents are wrapped up in adulting -- providing for the nest, extinguishing fires and slaying dragons; it can all be overwhelming. However, as can be evidenced in most of these children’s situation, the difficulty of childhood cannot be downplayed nor can a child’s ability to cope or seek help. At bare minimum, NCH suggests speaking with young children and being direct about suicidal thoughts and feelings of depression no matter how challenging it may be.
Parents may also take into consideration possible warning signs laid out by the American Psychological Association (APA):
- Talking About Dying: Any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self harm.
- Change in Personality: Sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, or apathetic.
- Change in Behavior: Difficulty concentrating on school, work, or routine tasks.
- Change in Sleep Patterns: Insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, nightmares.
- Change in Eating Habits: Loss of appetite and weight, overeating.
- Fear of Losing Control: Acting erratically, harming self or others.
It is time to take a closer look at how everyday life is affecting black children. It is time to give them the support they need when they feel have no way out. They, too, are up against a myriad of challenges that cause some to become suicidal. Talk to them. Believe them. Check on them--and follow-up with them. Assure them their black lives matter, too.
For information on child suicide prevention visit Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1 (800) 273- 8255.