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A silent, underlying killer of many black people's lives, dreams: depression
By Betty Baye

Screaming at them. Pointing fingers. Threatening jail or death. None of that seems to have the desired impact on the target audience: black people who are killing each other, themselves and the hopes and dreams of youths who are forced to bear witness to the violence.

A book written by an old friend arrived in the mail. It's Terrie M. Williams' "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting - Real Talk for When There's Nowhere to Go But Up." Educators, preachers, activists, politicians, journalists or simply people curious about what's behind the gruesome headlines should find value in what she has to say.

Williams addresses the terror that stalks black America.

"Our pain is screaming out at us every day, and at every freaking turn, and we haven't named it," she said when we talked by phone. "What I hope will come out of this book is that we will start the conversation."

About what?

Depression, that's what.

"The stuff," Terrie explains, has been passed down, and "nobody is getting help." The childhood hurts and scars, and "the wounds that black people experience in everyday life - being called out; being labeled fat, gay or whatever.

"It hurts, but you don't ever speak about it, so it sits inside you," she said, and you self-medicate by drinking, smoking, shopping, being a workaholic. You never process the stuff because of the stigma or because you can't afford therapy."

I'm well aware that lots of people suffer depression, but what's undeniable is that black Americans have had - and still do have, to some extent - a singular experience in this country. "We inherit the pain of our parents," Terrie said. "They did the best that they could, and all their pain was suppressed."

They did this so well that the people for whom they labored sometimes described them as happy-go-lucky, or at least as "good black people" who, as they fondly remember it, never complained and never caused trouble. Yet, they were human, and they were hurting. And, as Terrie said, they would sooner admit to having a relative in jail or on drugs than to say there's depression in the family.

In a section titled "Game Face: The Trap of Masculinity," she laments "how our brothers' preoccupation with being men is killing them, and killing us." She has talked to black men who describe how they block their feelings, sob when they're alone, and generally, as psychologist Derek Hopson told Terrie, are "so busy fighting that war that we don't want to show that we're exhausted, that we don't want to fight. ... We find it easier to be angry than to express hurt, disappointment and the softer emotions."

Terrie herself wore sorrow's mask. On the outside, she was romping through high cotton as the publicist for such clients as Eddie Murphy and Janet Jackson, until one day she collapsed and stayed in bed for days. Wisely, she recognized that she needed help, and she went for it. A subsequent investigation revealed that, all along, Terrie had been depressed. Like many sufferers, she had no idea.

But my faith teaches suffering is redemptive.

Talking with Terrie reminded me of the dynamic Watchnight message from my pastor, the Rev. Kevin W. Cosby: "Can These Bones Live Again?"

You know that story. God instructed Ezekiel to "prophesy to the bones" so that the way would be cleared for God to breathe life back into them.

"So I prophesied as I had been told," Ezekiel writes. "Breath entered those bodies, and they came back to life and stood up. There were enough of them to form an army."
 

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