By Alex Tompkins — 

The Louisville Out of the Darkness Walk (sponsored in part by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) is an annual event that takes place in November at Waterfront Park on the North Great Lawn. Before COVID-19 restrictions were in place, members of the community would gather to walk Waterfront Park in remembrance of those whose lives were lost due to suicide.

The walk originated in 2002 as a memorial walk for a local man who took his life. The event includes live music, memorials of lost loved ones, and rows of shoes that belonged to those who passed. This year, the walk started on Nov. 6 and ended Nov. 8.

What made this event so important was the persistence to continue the annual walk despite the conditions of our world. There were plenty of ways to be involved this year.

There was a memory wall adorned with pictures, photo stops along the route of the walk, and a scavenger hunt where participants were entered to win a prize. At the end of the walk, participants could sign their names on a large board surrounding the word “hope.”

One of the most heartfelt parts of the event was the honor beads ceremony, which took place virtually this year.

Each different-colored set of beads represents someone’s reason for walking and attending the event. Most of the founders, chairs, and volunteers have some reason for being involved in the walk. During the bead ceremony, each speaker was able to share their story and talk about the color representation of the beads. Participants wore their beads while walking the route to share their own stories and connect with others attending the walk.

In the midst of the uncertainty and darkness in the world, it is crucial to push helpful resources and hope to those in the community. The walk highlighted the importance of mental health and checking in on others no matter if they seem fine or not. The reassurance, community, and feeling of hope the annual walk provided is something profound that everyone should take their time to be a part of.

Megan Cole, Kentucky AFSP area director, shared ways to create a culture that is compassionate about mental health during this year’s opening ceremony.

“If you know someone who is struggling, just listen to them,” Cole said. “Give them a chance to share their story without offering any advice or passing any judgment. Know that everyone experiences mental health differently, and that is ok.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, the suicide prevention lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal