On May 21, over a thousand people gathered at San Francisco’s historic Fort Mason for the first Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk of 2016.
The event kicked off with a heartfelt speech from AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia.
After discussing how AFSP plans to reduce the national suicide rate 20% by 2025, Gebbia then brought to the stage Kevin Berthia, who told his incredible story of struggle and survival. In March of 2005, facing mounting bills from his baby daughter’s NICU stay and contending with an untreated mental health condition, Berthia went to the Golden Gate Bridge to end his life. California Highway Patrol Sergeant Kevin Briggs saved his life that day – after speaking for 92 minutes on the bridge and getting Berthia to help.
In May of 2013, AFSP brought the Kevins together for the first time at our annual Lifesavers Gala, where Berthia presented Briggs with AFSP’s Public Service award. Berthia refers to that night as the start of his real life, and so he took the opportunity on the Overnight stage to propose to his girlfriend, Erin. She said yes!
After a moment of congratulations, Kevin Briggs narrated the AFSP honor bead ceremony. The ceremony celebrated nine people who have been affected by suicide, each representing specific bead colors, including: an army veteran who now works helping other vets reintegrate into civilian life; a teacher from Palo Alto school district, which has seen a number of teen suicides recently; and an LGBT and mental health advocate determined to lead others out of the darkness.
As the sun began to set, the walkers started their journey through the night. Forged together in a common bond, the community of walkers passed iconic San Francisco sites such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, Dragon Gate, Yerba Buena Gardens, and Cupid’s Span. At the Caltrain Station, walkers enjoyed a brief rest and midnight snack. Crew members in capes kept the energy up and walkers were invited to write messages of encouragement on the wall. Throughout the night, many walkers took note of a man named Andy who walked in three inch tan heels. He walked all 18 miles in his sister’s shoes to honor her memory.
During the closing ceremony, CEO Robert Gebbia announced that more than $1.9 million had been raised for the fight to stop suicide. Walker Nicole Tong spoke about what she lost when her brother Evan died by suicide two and half years ago, as well as what she unexpectedly gained:
“While I lost Evan,” Nicole explained as her dad and stepmom joined her on stage, “I’ve gained AFSP, the Overnight, and all of you. Thank you for walking through the night with us. Thank you for helping me — and so many others — find so much light after so much darkness.“
Thanks to Transit America Services, Incorporated for sponsoring our midnight snack and thank you to all of our Walkers, Crew, volunteers, and donors for making this such an extraordinary event.