First Christian Church will hold its fourth annual Walk Out of the Darkness on Oct. 22.
The walk was started after the suicide of Candler Smith, a church member, in 2017. It is a 1-mile loop around both the church and Winder-Barrow High School in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Six years after Smith’s death, the Rev. Cheryl Cloar continues to carry on Smith’s legacy through the walk.
“We still do it in memory of Candler, and it is still our love of Candler and the ways that he continues to touch us,” she said.
Cloar said since the church’s first walk in 2019, it has grown and gained more support from both participants and sponsors.
The number of deaths by suicide in the U.S. continues to rise. In 2021, the CDC reported 48,183 deaths by suicide in the nation. In 2022, the number rose to about 49,449 deaths, an increase of 2.6 percent.
Cloar said an important part of her suicide prevention work is to break the stigma around talking about suicide.
Now, people will say suicide because of the walk. It’s become something that people are willing to talk about,” she said.
In the spring, the University of Georgia hosts a similar walk to prevent suicide, where students like Sophia Bradley can both commemorate a lost loved one and participate in suicide prevention.
“I lost my brother the summer after senior year going into college,” Bradley said. “That’s why I got involved with it. My family also has a foundation for him.”
Bradley worked UGA’s Walk Out of the Darkness in spring 2023. She recruited sponsors and handed out beads with colors symbolizing the type of experience each person has with suicide. She also intends to participate in the church’s upcoming walk.
Both Bradley and Cloar said participation in AFSP’s Walks out of the Darkness represents community and togetherness to confront the issue of suicide.
Apart from the walk, there are ways people can contribute to its prevention.
“Check up on your friends and just keep showing that they’re not alone,” Bradley said. “And like even the people you think you wouldn’t have to check up on, those are the people that need it the most.”
Lindsey Bornhorst is a senior majoring in journalism at the University of Georgia.
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