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Volunteer Spotlight: Jennifer Johnson, Michigan Chapter

22 Apr 2022 — 2 min read


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The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Hosts 33rd Annual Lifesavers Gala

Jennifer Johnson headshot

Do you have a personal connection to suicide?

My connection to suicide is through my Godfather, Kenny Harvard. Our families were close friends, and I looked up to him. I called him my Uncle Kenny, and I can still hear him call me by the nickname he gave me: “Puddin.”

Kenny moved away from our area in the Midwest and settled in Texas. Every night at 10 PM, he would call to speak with my mom and me. One night, he didn’t call. When the sun rose, we learned he had taken his life. That was in 1988. I was 17 at the time. No one said anything more about how my Uncle died, even to this day. I am now 51.

How did you first get connected with AFSP?

It was through my work with Michigan PTA, which is a child advocacy association. I was seeking resources for students and families who may be in crisis. I took the Talk Saves Lives training, then More than Sad. I began sharing the resources of AFSP’s Michigan chapter with my community as a whole, including a local LGBTQ community center and social justice and racial equity organizations. Unexpectedly, my growing participation with the chapter helped me heal a wound, allowing me to grieve my Uncle Kenny while fostering advocacy.

What kind of cultural considerations do you think come into play with mental health?

I am a Black woman, and in our community, suicide is largely taboo. It is time for that mindset to be eradicated. I am doing my best to bring about the conversation of suicide prevention in our untapped populations, especially those of color.

I am now a member of the Michigan chapter’s DEI Committee. The need for suicide prevention in the DEI space is crucial. We strive to break down the barriers that impede the open discussion of suicide in all communities, particularly our underserved communities. We are engaging and building relationships with community organizations that also center within the DEI space with their focus populations, collaborating with them to provide effective resources for the community.

What does the phrase #MentalHealth4All mean to you?

#MentalHealth4All means amplifying suicide prevention awareness so that it is on everyone’s radar. As a Black woman, I have made it my mission to share understanding about suicide prevention with my community and the various hues that make up our human race. The suicide of a loved one is forever etched within you. I do not wish for anyone to experience the pain my family and my godfather’s family endured. I do not wish for anyone to feel they have no one to talk to, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, lack of religion, age, gender or identity.

In our Black and Brown communities, we must talk about suicide to prevent it.

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