It was a ceremony on the fourth floor of the Old Red Museum in downtown Dallas that no one should have to attend, but perhaps everyone should witness. It was the 10th annual Suicide Prevention Day event hosted by the Greater Dallas Suicide Prevention Coalition. The program is held in honor of those who took their lives in Dallas county and surrounding areas each year. Displayed around the room were 565 pairs of shoes, representing every life lost to suicide in 2017. After the ceremony, all the shoes were donated to The Well Community. This is The Well’s fifth year to accept this generous donation.
“For most of our members, this is the only pair of shoes they’ll get for the year, until we get the donation from next year’s ceremony,” The Well Community’s Program Coordinator, Ericka Ruiz, said. “The majority of them walk as their main mode of transportation, so shoes are important.” According to Margie Wright, executive director of the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas and co-chair of the Greater Dallas Suicide Prevention Coalition, years ago someone from the Dallas Police Department recommended The Well Community as a worthy recipient of the shoes donated. “It has been a great partnership. It’s a unique way to give back to the community we’re trying to change.”
Ten years ago, Margie saw this exact event held in Washington, D.C. with many more shoes, reflective of a higher population. Her vision for Dallas was to eventually have the shoes displayed on the steps of the Old Red Courthouse. After nine years at Dallas City Hall, she finally secured a spot at the Old Red Museum (the red courthouse). Although this year the rain didn’t allow the shoes to be displayed outside, the event itself was just as Margie had hoped. “I’ve pictured it there for years and could never get the publicity to have it held there. So, we got it cleared this year, and it actually is a dream come true.”
Event speakers included Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel, Assistant Rector of Church of the Incarnation Ryan Waller and Hispanic Community Liaison Claudia Smith, as well as Sue Loncar and Terry Hill, family members of those who lost their lives to suicide. In attendance were the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and volunteers from Bank of America who helped organize shoes before and after the event.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, but the second leading cause of death among those age 10 through 34. This averages to one suicide every 12 minutes across all age groups. As the shoes represented, in Dallas County and the surrounding areas, 565 people took their own lives in 2017. Commissioner Daniel shared these statistics and noted, “Public safety is part of my job and that includes mental health. While I am honored to be here, I am grieved we are attending an event like this. There are far too many shoes in this room. But there is hope.”
Rector Waller spoke on the importance of talking about mental health in order to fight the taboo of speaking about suicide. “The stigma is so strong and thick that no one will go get help because we have made it socially frowned-upon to have mental health issues. Let’s move that conversation in the church and onto the streets. Let’s start asking people how they are. Let’s bring light into dark places.”
The Well Community will organize all 565 pairs by gender and size and distribute them in time for the holidays. “This is an amazing donation that we appreciate each year. It is tragic that there’s a reason to donate that many shoes, but The Well members, many of whom deal daily with depression and stigma, find hope because of this generous donation,” Ericka commented.