Trigger Warning: This story includes references to sexual assault and suicide.
Marcie Gerald was a Midwestern teenager who loved dancing and wanted to go to Harvard. But after she was sexually assaulted and forced to face her perpetrator in court as he unapologetically recounted every detail of the crime, Marcie sank into a depression. Several years after the assault, at the age of 15, Marcie took her own life.
Her mother, Elizabeth, turned her pain into action by sharing their story and working to prevent other people from experiencing the loss she did.
“One thing I learned is that when people don’t stay active they sit in the house and they break down. I decided not to let her death be in vain and I started going around spreading suicide awareness and I speak on mental illness issues and rape. That’s what helps me.”
Gerald said it was hearing people repeatedly say “Black people don’t kill themselves” that made her share Marcie’s story with the world.
“The thing is, suicide is the third leading cause of death and I’ve had people say they have lost children, husbands, wives, all types of best friends to suicide but a lot of people don’t want to come out and say it was suicide. They’d rather say it was a natural cause or accidental death because of the stigma in the African American community… We brush it under the rug; it’s a secret.
“Since I’ve been going around talking on sexual assault and bullying I’ve had women and, believe it or not, men tell me they were molested as children and their mothers would say ‘What goes on in this house stays in this house’ and they never got treated.”
It’s those stories that keep Gerald motivated, and though suicide and sexual assault are personal to her, she has a message for the Black community at large.
“One of the things we have to learn to do as African Americans is we have to learn how to love and be kind to one another. We’ve got to unite. We’re the most religious race, but were also the most dysfunctional; we’re the most separated. Men call women hos, thots, B’s; women think it’s cute to be a bad B. We’ve got to come together. We’re the only race that doesn’t come together and the stuff that happens to us we don’t hear about, and the stuff that does make the news is the homicides and gang shootings but it’s just as many suicides as it is homicides. I’ve lost three nephews to gun violence and I lost my step-son. I tell people, the pain is the same whether it’s a homicide or a suicide because they’re not coming back. We’ve got to come together to save our youth and our adults because mental illness is real in the Black community.”