Coming Out Day! Courtyard Exhibit in Phoenix

2015-12-15_8-59-31Dese’Rae Stage describes Live Through This as a collection of portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors, as told by those survivors.

“The history of the movement shows the true power our stories have to change hearts and minds. Coming out to family, friends and coworkers has caused the opposition to equality to fall away. As more and more people continue to speak their truth, we’re inching closer to a day where no person ever feels compelled to hide who they are out of fear.”

Actually, this 2015 quote from the Human Rights Campaign referred to National Coming Out Day and the LGBT civil rights movement. But, it could have just as easily been applied to the pioneering efforts of Dese’Rae Stage, Cara Anna, Heidi Bryan and the many others, who like Harvey Milk, have spoken out and encouraged others to do the same.

2015-12-15_9-02-55On Thursday night, December 10, RI International hosted a different kind of Coming Out Day with a twilight courtyard exhibit featuring Dese’Rae’s award-winning collection of portraits. In addition, the event featured Philadelphia’s Behavioral Health Commissioner Dr. Arthur C. Evans, whose recovery oriented approach is transforming the City’s service system.

Dr. Evans began with a brief YouTube video on the City of Philadelphia Porch Light Mural Arts Program, and asked, “what does healing look like?” The answer. A space and place to share… that is created together, as a community.

The Philly experiment is big and bold. The Virtual Tour website showcases 20 murals that have been created around the city in partnership with behavioral health clinics and people receiving services. In just one of those examples, over 1,000 community members put paint to the wall with the three story, 100+ foot long “Finding the Light Within” mural at 120 South 30th Street.

2015-12-15_9-04-26Working closely with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Crisis Response Team of Philadelphia and many other local advocacy groups, muralist James Burns set out to shed light on suicide by providing an opportunity for relationship building among those bereaved by suicide, those with a history of attempts and their families and friends. The result is visually stunning and filled with rich and amazing detail.

Dr. Evans’ presentation inspired us that art can light the way to hope, resilience and a connection to each other.

Next, Dese’Rae shared her own painful story of depression, loss and suicidal thoughts. “But, I’m not a special little snowflake,” she followed, and pointed us to the amazing collection of photographs that encircled us. These included friends and leaders like Leah Harris and Dr. Bart Andrews, the latter of which came out of the closet about suicide just last year.

2015-12-15_9-07-58We’re afraid of death. We’re afraid of suicide. We’re afraid of those people. But, Dese’Rae reminds us that individuals who have survived suicide attempts look just like us. “These feelings could affect your mom, your partner, or your brother, and the fear of talking about it can be a killer.”

“Historically, people have spoken about their experience only under condition of anonymity in order to save them from being discriminated against. The silence and shame this creates are dangerous, and individuals are encouraged to own their experiences publicly, using their full name and likeness, and stripping the issue of anonymity and raising awareness by talking about it. It’s been a taboo too long.”

This quote in fact came from Dese’Rae’s Live Through This website. But, it could have just as easily been used on National Coming Out Day. It’s time to tackle the last stigma.

Notes: More on RI’s special guests Dese’Rae Stage and Dr. Arthur Evans, both of whom reside in Philadelphia

The Live Through This project has been covered by the New York TimesAssociated PressUpworthyNPR, the Glenn Beck Program as well several other radio and TV programs.  In 2015, Dese’Rae won the inaugural Paul G. Quinnett Lived Experience Writing Contest and was named New Yorker of the Week by NY1 News.

In 2015, Dr. Arthur C. Evans was recognized by the White House as an “Advocate for Action” by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In 2013, he received the American Medical Association’s top government service award in health care, the Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service. Dr. Evans is also regarded as a strong advocate for people experiencing behavioral health conditions and was recognized by Faces and Voices of Recovery with the Lisa Mojer-Torres Award.

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