Becoming Aware…

I attended my first suicide awareness event on 10/26/2016, at Eastern Kentucky University: Walk For Hope sponsored by the Richmond/EKU National Alliance for Mental Illness. I became aware of this event through a support group I joined after losing my beloved friend, close companion and artistic collaborator to suicide on August 22, 2016.  As anyone who has suffered such a shocking loss can tell you — Owen’s death has changed my life.

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I believe this was the first event of its kind at EKU, and it was very well organized. The speakers, one who lost a son to suicide, were wonderful, and passionate as they told stories and explained their mission to help those affected by suicide — including the bereaved. Here is a link to a unique organization represented at the Walk For Hope, Shelby’s Way. The music was moving too.

I wish I could include more photographs of the crowds that attended — but I can’t. They weren’t there.  In fact — and maybe because I am one of the bereaved — I felt the curious and anxious eyes of pedestrians that passed us upon us as small, tight groups of supporters and sufferers sat and listened to wistful tunes and powerful stories of love and loss.  I could actually feel the stigma associated with the taboo subject of suicide as if it was catching, like an easily communicable disease.

With numbers of suicides in the area rising, this has to change. I hope I can be part of initiating that awareness-building and empathy encouraging change.  I think the very first thing I will voluntarily do is facilitate the creation of a beautiful, eye catching banner to hang at next year’s event.

 

 

Mountain Day 2016, Berea College

On 10/10/16 I participated in my first Mountain Day at Berea College. See more about the history of Mountain Day here.

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My Mountain Day began before dawn with a traditional mile-long hike up to the East Pinnacle at Indian Fort, an historic and sacred Native American site. I would estimate that close to a hundred other individuals — including an entire choir — joined in. They broke into song at sunrise. It was quite a moment.

I took my time coming down in broad daylight, however — and needed to shower and change (because of the unusually warm for eastern Kentucky weather) before returning to help man our AmeriCorps VISTA and Partners For Education/PartnerCorps table. We enticed Mountain Day attendees to learn more about AmeriCorps and VISTA by offering a raffle for VISTA Jeffrey Carpenter’s artworks — and an art activity that involved making cards with rubbings of fallen leaves. I “trained” several AmeriCorps VISTAs in creating these rubbings, and they in turn instructed table visitors in making their take-away card.

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It was a beautiful, productive and instructional day. My most valuable lesson: what an amazing community Berea College is, evidenced by the enthusiastic participation of so many of its students (more than I ever witnessed at any other higher ed institution during my sixteen years of formally teaching art) — and its commitment to the arts, evidenced by the several musical performances — and a drum circle! — at Mountain Day 2016.

 

Visiting VISTAS, Cumberland, KY, October 1, 2016

Alexia  Ault showing me sorghum processing

Alexia Ault showing me sorghum processing

Many thanks to Partners For Education/Berea College Higher Ground VISTAS for inviting me to the Kingdom Come Swappin’ Meetin’/Black Bear Festival on October 1 to watch sorghum processing — and attend a lively and hilarious performance of Life Is A Vapor at The Godbey Appalachian Center at Southeast KY Community and Technical College.

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I missed the milling part, but no big deal…it was done by machine instead of the usual mule! Alexia, our Higher Ground VISTA showed me how the sorghum is cooked and reduced, and the green gunk and foam at the top of the boiling/simmering vat skimmed off. Eventually a smoky/sweet tasting molasses is produced — which I got to taste with a “dipper”, a piece of cane hacked off with a knife by Applachian Center Director Robert Gipe.

I also got a tour of the festival as well as of the fine arts building — which is graced by this beautiful text based and storytelling themed mural. The second, figurative mural was created by many hands, each taking charge of a tile, which gives the overall piece an authenticity and energy not found in more “technically perfect” murals. I loved them both.

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Then, at 6:30 p.m., I attended a Higher Ground performance of “Life Is A Vapor”. According to VISTAS Alexia Ault and Cassidy Wright, Higher Ground productions are written by the performers themselves, and based on real people known by the cast and community — so they are really about life stories. And by the way, I didn’t think I was up to seeing a play about a funeral — but it was hilarious and touching.

 

Higher Ground about to perform Life Is A Vapor

Higher Ground about to perform Life Is A Vapor

Life Is A Vapor poster designed by Cassidy Wright

Life Is A Vapor poster designed by Cassidy Wright