Desktop banner image

The Legendary Susan L. Taylor On Black Child Suicide–And A Blueprint For Recovery

An American Crisis: Black Child Suicide - A Call To Love and Action - Susan L. Taylor

Source: An American Crisis: Black Child Suicide – A Call To Love and Action – / Ione Digital – cs

The following article is the latest installation in NewsOne’s Special Series, An American Crisis: Black Child Suicide. If you’re experiencing distress or need someone to talk to, please dial 988 at any time for immediate support. You can also text START to 678-678. Trained counselors are available to provide confidential support and assistance. 

You are not alone.

With each shocking report I read about Black child suicide, I remember that I, that we, can never take our able lives for granted. For each of us, it may have been otherwise but for our ability to stand on the shoulders of those who stood without shoes, who marched without permission, who ran without hesitation. Our ancestors flew without wings to ensure our arrival—and to ensure that our lives would be less brutal and more bountiful than theirs.

In serving as the chief editor of Essence for nearly three decades, I felt deeply that we had not just a mission, but a mandate to present the hidden truths about the power, promise and beauty of Black women. That same ethos today guides the National CARES Mentoring Movement which was founded as Essence CARES in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and during the last years of my tenure at the magazine. I handed the reins to the next generation of editors so that I could focus full-time on crises derailing the lives of the most vulnerable young ones in our nation: Black children living in poverty and suffering from the harms of societal neglect.

Black child suicide is a national tragedy. It is shocking that the rate of our children dying by suicide has risen faster than the rates of all other sectors.

National CARES exists to change that narrative, to shift the consciousness of our children losing ground because they have little to no access to the supports and benefits that secure and advance middle class and affluent children. Our group-mentoring, healing curriculum centers our young, instills in them hope, critical thinking, and a love for self and others. Encircled by CARES-trained, compassionate adults who shine the light on what is so valuable and beautiful about them, young people in our programs know they are loved by a community that will not give up on them, that will not let them fall.


Susan Taylor feature

Source: National CARES Mentoring Movement

Trust is built. Resistance and fear diminish. Young people feel safe and cared for and willingly enter those secret places where misunderstood and unaddressed pain and trauma grow and cause life-long disruptions. National CARES is dedicated to emotional healing and solidarity–within ourselves, our children, our community. This is our work!

Undergirding Black Children is the Big Business of Black America.

Never has this mission—our mandate—been more urgent than it is today. Black child suicide is a national tragedy. It is shocking that the rate of our children dying by suicide has risen faster than the rates in all other sectors. Black children as young as five-years-old are dying by suicide at twice the rate of their white peers. But that’s not the whole story.

It must be known that we adults have the ability to heal ourselves, help our children heal and end this epidemic. I’ve seen it for myself in the work done by our CARES-affiliate leaders in 58 U.S. cities. Over the last decade-and-a-half, they have made National CARES the nation’s leading recruiter and trainer of African American mentors—and mentors who stay with us longer than they do in other mentoring programs. Further, independent researchers found that more than two-thirds of the young people our CARES-trained leaders, psychologists and mentors engaged stopped self-harming behaviors and fully 81 percent of those we engaged felt, often for the first time, a sense of racial pride and self-love.

These successes are not only attributed to our committed affiliate leaders all across the nation, but also to our Braintrust of more than 60 of our finest minds in medicine, the arts, education, healing and wellness, advocacy and academia. The work they created for CARES, A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America, is a blueprint for healing the epigenetic pain and trauma that lives in African Americans. Along with our power, we carried our pain across the sea and passed it down over the centuries. Our healing protocols are culturally anchored. They are framed in our beautiful, broken and bountiful history. Knowing the truth about our survival and resilience is foundational to the curricula implemented by psychologists and a support network of additional healing experts in our multi-city-and multi-state programming, most notably our signature program, The Rising: Elevating Education, Expectations and Self-Esteem. Our CARES-trained volunteer mentors are a great gift to our healing-circle work.

National CARES provides healing-trauma programs across the country–and they are culturally anchored and framed in our beautiful, broken and bountiful history.

The Rising engages children, teens and young adults in the most poorly resourced and greatly neglected schools and communities–including detention centers. It secures lives by interrupting hurt, depression and suicidal ideation, giving young people the opportunity to learn how to manage harsh childhood realities that would wither many adults. With no federal response proportional to the crises shredding our children’s lives and futures, the need for The Rising–the need to fully and lovingly undergird Black children–is the Big Business of Black America. We can eliminate suffering in our nation of wealth and privilege that our ancestors’ forced and uncompensated labor made possible.

This is my call to love and action for those who are willing and able. Please don’t turn away. These are not the harshest times in our history. Our foreparents, who made the way forward for us, lived through centuries of enslavement, Jim Crow and murderous practices beyond the telling. Let us get going–together! Gather your loved ones and friends and consider how you will join this restorative movement for our children in crisis. 

We able ones are their only sure hope and we must believe that working with one another–and with allies–we can create America the Beautiful!

Susan L. Taylor is the Editor-in-Chief Emerita of Essence magazine and the founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement. For more information about the work that National CARES is dedicated to, please visit or listen to Rising students in their own voices here.

Some Critical Facts to Know and Share

Suicide is Preventable: Most often suicide is driven by depression, and depression, when treated, is one of the most manageable of all mental health issues. It is also preventable when we understand how to disrupt its instigators.

Stigmas Must Finally be Released: Social stigma is widely attached to mental health issues. It’s almost as though we see our minds as wholly separate and distinct from our bodies, our spirits. Just as our spirits and bodies can be harmed by a difficult world and we go to faith leaders or ERs, we must go to people who specialize in both understanding and healing our minds.

Racism and Bigotry are Major Factors: We know that adverse childhood experiences are drivers of the tragedy–and our children are more likely to experience them, to know their sharpest edges. But our children as young as 5 must also contend with racism, an identified cause of specifically Black child suicide. When coupled with sexism, homophobia and transphobia, our children’s lives are made all the more brutal.  

Structural Racism is Everywhere: Black children are routinely misdiagnosed. Their depression–even when their symptoms mirror exactly those of white children–are regularly and wrongly labeled as having an illness that is violent.

Doctors are Not Necessarily Healers: Doctors are also not, by default or job requirement, scientists. Unlike scientific researchers they are not charged with actively and objectively working to uncover a diagnoses devoid of bias. Take time to consider what they tell you. Trust your gut. Check their assertions by using free and available public resources from credible sources.

Support the Calls for More Black Psychologists: Fully 86% of all psychologists in our nation are white, and the lack of diversity disrupts the accuracy of diagnoses. Dr. Warren Ng, the president of the American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and psychiatrist at the Columbia University School of Medicine said in 2022 that when we see behaviors that are labeled disruptive, we may actually be looking at “post-traumatic stress or depression.” The incorrect diagnosis is often the result of a medical professionals’ bias–intentional or not. Or, Dr. Ng argued, they may simply lack appropriate knowledge about the field and its complex universe of patients. Indeed, our children are less likely to have spent time with properly trained and culturally grounded mental health professionals, Dr. Ng concluded.

Remember Our Children are Children: Black children are routinely aged-up–adultified–a defacto race-based viewpoint that leads to far more serious punishments and harmful misdiagnoses among our young ones. We can disrupt that bias where we see it. We can consistently remind other adults that our children are literally children, literally, until they’re not—which, if measured by brain development, doesn’t happen until our young ones are in their mid-to-late 20s when the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s right behind the forehead, matures. It’s the last part of our brain to do so and it’s also the part of the brain that drives our ability to make good decisions, to plan and prioritize. 

And Our Children Often Will Tell Us: We’ve often dismissed our children when they’ve said to us, “I want to kill myself,” or “I hate my life. I wish I wasn’t even alive.” But these declarations are considered very serious indicators of suicidal ideation. 

Talking is Treatment: The National Medical Library found that talking about mental health and suicidal ideation helps reduce its occurrence. It opens the door to honest, open conversation, particularly if those conversations are defined by adults actively listening to children, without judgment and with tenderness.

Active Listening is Life-Saving: When we listen to our children without judgment and when we listen remembering the child we once were who experienced loneliness or bullying or fear or isolation, we hear ways to support our babies. 

Tenderness is Life-Giving: Remember what you needed said to you, how you needed to be treated, as a child. Remember how you felt when someone was gentle and kind. In some cases, that tenderness, that kindness, might have been a primary force in ensuring you made it through childhood. 

Knowledge is Power–and it’s Available: Historically, it was believed that suicide was not a threat to our babies. But that was not true. It’s that no one was paying attention. Once Black researchers were finally provided some funding to undertake research in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, they were able to accurately investigate the lives and the deaths of our youngest ones. They found that what most of believed about mental health and suicide in Black communities–and beyond–was just not true. 

Working Together is Key: We grown folks linking arms and aims are the community our children must have in order to thrive. Supporting one another, we can provide our children a protective shield and we  can call upon lawmakers and other officials to do likewise. We can model for a nation what love truly looks like, what it feels like by loving our children, ourselves and each other well.  Within us lives everything we need–the imagination, the creativity, the hope, the empathy, the brilliance, the humility and the determination to secure the lives of our beloved children. 

Our history tells us so.

If you’re experiencing distress or need someone to talk to, please dial 988 at any time for immediate support. You can also text START to 678-678. Trained counselors are available to provide confidential support and assistance. 
You are not alone.


Three Things You Can Do Right Now if You Feel Overwhelmed 

  1. Reach Out for Support: For young people, please immediately talk to a trusted adult about how you’re feeling. This could be a parent, guardian, teacher, school counselor, or another supportive adult in your life. Or it could be a trained counselor at 988.
  2. Practice Self-Care: Listen to music you love. Take deep breaths. Meditate. Walk or jog or dance. These are aerobic exercises that help increase serotonin and can make you feel immediately better. If it’s a beautiful day and safe to go outside, go outside. Take in the fresh air. Look for small things that might make you smile. Journal. Do a hobby you enjoy. Drink water. You matter. We need you here.
  3. Seek Professional Help: If feelings of overwhelm persist or become too much to handle, talk to one of the free counselors on one of the helplines. What free or low-cost mental health supports are available to you? Ask if they can recommend a Black therapist. There’s often greater synergy between people of similar backgrounds.

Additional National Hotlines

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 available 24/7.
  • The Crisis Text Line – text TALK to 741-741, available 24/7
  • The Steve Fund text STEVE to 741741
  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – Text 988

Books and Films to Consider

    • Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting by Terrie M. Williams. Delves into the emotional and psychological challenges faced by Black people, offering insights into how these struggles can affect children and adolescents.
      • Age Range: Adult readers, suitable for parents and caregivers of Black children and adolescents.
    • Teen Mental Health and Suicide in Black Families. This PBS documentary explores the unique challenges and experiences surrounding teenagers’ mental health, and depression and suicide within Black families. It offers insights and resources for support.
      • Age Range: Teenagers 13+ and adults.

WATCH: A Meditation with Dionne Monsanto Breath is Life