As a gay black man born with a speech impediment in the south also played professional football, Wade Davis had to learn how to love and accept himself with all of his identities.
The theme of this year’s Suicide Prevention Week is “what’s your story?” In light of this theme, Davis spoke about his struggles with silence and loving himself at Jorgensen last night for the suicide prevention week keynote event put on by Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) and Student Union Board of Governors (SUBOG).
However, the road wasn’t always easy. Davis had to overcome a stutter, internalized homophobia, racism and toxic masculinity in order to accept all of himself, not just the parts that society normalizes. Both external shame from society and internal shame cost him his mental health, Davis said.
His depression was rooted in “performing masculinity,” Davis said. For years of his life, he pretended to be the ideal straight black man by going to strip clubs with his teammates and dressing in what we deem masculine clothes. This performance was driven by a fear of not being accepted by the people who he loved, Davis explained.
Ultimately, the only way to break the cycle of self-hatred is by practicing self love daily and by connecting with others who have similar experiences and identities.
In particular, Davis said that we often fill our memory banks, the memories that play over in our heads, with negative ones rather than positive memories of love and connection. So Davis makes the conscious effort to fill his memory bank with loved moments on a daily basis.
Also, it’s only after learning to love your whole self, Davis argued, that you can have compassion for others.
“It’s important to teach yourself to love yourself first and then it will be a lot easier for you to love everybody around you,” Jana Hassan, a first-semester allied health major, said. “Because once you love everything about yourself, it’s easier to find those things in yourself in other people.”
For example, after coming out to his mother and father roughly ten years ago, Davis’s parents didn’t accept him at first. Rather than internalize these feelings, Davis had compassion for his parents. He thought about how his mother’s experiences with racism throughout her life made her fear for her son’s safety. In a world that already oppressed him for being black, Davis’s mother referred to his coming out as “signing his own death certificate.”This compassion is important because it facilitates a connection, which helps people realize that they’re not alone. We’re human and being human doesn’t mean being perfect, Davis stressed.
Seliana Seradieu, a fifth-semester human development and family studies major and SUBOG vice president of membership development, spoke more about this.
“We always just see these struggles as weaknesses but for him to say here’s this thing that I faced and I was vulnerable in this moment but don’t think that you always have to put on this brave face,” Seradieu said. “Don’t think that you always need to be the strong black man that everyone expects you to be. You don’t always have to be strong it’s okay to be vulnerable.”
Hassan added to this. “I feel like people tend to be their own hardest critics so I feel like adding that it’s okay makes a person feel like you’re not in this alone and there are other people experiencing what you are experiencing and it’s okay to feel down about yourself but it’s also good for you to see that and lot yourself for what you are.”
Perhaps more important than learning to love yourself is being vocal about that acceptance and using your own self love to empower others. Because silence inhibits connection “your silence is not only criminal but suicidal,” Davis said.
Ajeetej Rai, a ninth-semester physiology and neurobiology and psychology double major, explained this importance of using your voice to share your experiences.
“I think the biggest takeaway was sometimes silence isn’t key we should use our voices. Being a bystander is a problem in itself and in using your voice you might be able to help someone and make a difference in their life in a positive way,” Rai said.
Ultimately, Seradieu, noted the importance of talking about the intersectionality of identity and trying not to fit people into boxes.
“I think it was cool to see the intersectionality come together. He’s a black man, he’s gay, and it was nice to hear the story about his mom it’s always nice to hear an “I did it, I made it” kind of story,” Seradieu said.
While Suicide Prevention Week continues with more events next week, it is important to continue having these conversations and creating spaces to be vulnerable and share your story.
Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.