Feb. 4, 2020 - It has been said that life is made up of pieces of time: moments that shape us, people who impact us, memories that stay with us. Rarely in life can we see our actions creating tangible differences in the world. The Overnight Walk – the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s flagship Out of the Darkness event, in which participants walk from dusk to dawn to raise awareness and funds – is one of those times.
We’re commemorating a major milestone this year, the 25th Overnight Walk, with one special event in New York City on June 20, 2020. As New York City was the birthplace of AFSP, it felt right to host this year’s Overnight Walk in the city that started it all, and the place our organization calls home. It is also a time to reflect on what The Overnight and AFSP’s Out of the Darkness™ Walks represent.
In 2002, AFSP introduced its first fundraising walk to stop suicide. Some of the organizers wondered whether people would even be willing to appear publicly and walk in support of such a sensitive topic. The word “suicide” was barely said aloud at the time, if said at all. In fact, the word was not even printed on the shirts the Walkers were wearing. Yet 2,300 people showed up, and walked over 20 miles in the Washington, D.C. area, enduring the heat of August.
The Overnight was the very first of AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks, which also include Community Walks and Campus Walks. The event opened a door for survivors of suicide loss to openly grieve, and provided them an opportunity to take action. The progress we have made over the last 17 years in the fight to #StopSuicide, and provide support to all those affected – bringing our culture forward in its understanding of mental health and suicide, and discovering new evidence-informed ways to help prevent it – can to some degree trace its roots back to that first Overnight in 2002.
Since then, the Out of the Darkness Walks have expanded nationwide. Over 400 Community Walks bring suicide prevention and awareness to local communities across the country. Campus Walks in the spring highlight the impact young people are making in addressing this leading cause of death. These Walks raise nearly $30 million annually – funds which go toward education and support programs, innovative research, advocacy efforts, and much more.
AFSP itself has grown substantially in that time, from a small office in New York, to local chapters in all 50 states, and a Public Policy office in Washington, D.C. We’ve continued in our mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide by setting a bold goal to reduce the rate of suicide 20% by the year 2025, through our Project 2025 initiative.
Consider the impact of The Overnight through numbers: 25 Overnight Walks over 17 years is more than 400 miles walked in nine cities by more than 25,000 Walkers, who have raised over $50 million for the cause.
But impact can be measured in more than just statistics. It is measured in the lives touched by this event, as each year thousands of participants come together for a night filled with hope, healing, and love.
The 25th Overnight in New York City on June 20 is a chance for both alumni and newcomers to see the actual impact they are making in suicide prevention. This is the time to rekindle or establish old and new friendships and personal connections with others who have been touched by suicide.
Alumni: think back to your first Overnight experience. What city were you in? Who was your first Overnight friend turned family? Can you feel the anticipation as you tied your shoelaces? Can you see the stage and hear the music? Do you feel the wave of emotions present as you picked up your first set of Honor Beads? Do you see your first luminaria lighting the finish line path, representing everyone we walk for?
For newcomers, the 25th Overnight is an invitation to an event that can change your life, as you walk to change the way the world thinks about suicide. It is a chance to walk in honor of those people forever etched in your soul. It is a time to say their names aloud, to connect with others who truly understand, and to be open about your own mental health experience. The Overnight is a safe space to begin and continue your healing journey.
The Overnight is an event unlike any other, and our participants are why it is so special. Walkers, Crew and volunteers from across the country are coming together to take significant strides in their healing journeys, share their experiences without shame, and work tirelessly to ensure that mental health is seen as equally important as physical health.
Join us this year on June 20th in New York, as we continue building toward a world without suicide. I look forward to seeing (and hugging!) you there.
Whether this is your first Overnight experience, or your 25th, welcome home.
Register today to participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s milestone 25th Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk.