“I want to feel something different.”
The voice in her head was new but strong. Kristian Blackmon, 39, wasn’t aware she was contemplating suicide. She just knew she didn’t feel right; hadn’t felt herself for days. What she defined as a “darkness” had enveloped her for weeks. But that night in early 2019, after work, while in the shower, an unexpected but convincing message boomed in her head:
Blackmon consumed all the alcohol and pills she could find in the house. Time passed, she blacked out only to be awakened by her cousin banging on her front door. She’d been trying to reach her all day. The cousin and her husband tended to Blackmon.
Because she had vomited most of the poison from her system, the cousin didn’t insist she go to a hospital. Instead, the cousin took Blackmon home with her.
The next day, Blackmon contacted her therapist and they’ve been in constant contact ever since.
She still has those “up and down days” and small bouts with depression, but, Kristian said, but the irrational thoughts and feelings that seemed to justify suicide almost two years ago have not returned.
Today, life for Kristian Blackmon is all about healing herself and others.
This weekend (Nov. 27 and 28), Blackmon will host “I Still Love H.E.R.” a virtual art show celebrating women in hip-hop. It’s one of several shows she’s hosted as part of her effort to use the power of art to “educate and speak to oppression and injustice.” Kristian, a visual artist, has been curating exhibits since 2012 at venues such as Urb Arts in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.
She’s been involved in protests since the killing of Mike Brown by a Ferguson police officer in 2014. But the suicide attempt, police shootings and the coronavirus pandemic has increased her resolve to give Black people, especially activists and artists, a chance to speak and be heard.
“We have to take care of ourselves”
“A lot of folk who do community work, especially those protesting; they’re moving on adrenaline and most times don’t think about what it does to them mentally. A lot of stuff I didn’t think was impacting me, actually was. I recognize now that we have to take care of ourselves.”
The suicide attempt, Kristian admits, was, in a way, successful:
“There were elements of me that literally died that day. There were pieces of me I needed to shed and some of those pieces died. Now, I’m reincarnated. I’m on the other side. There are new pieces to me, things that were made anew.”
The challenge she’s embraced is “figuring out how to be well, emotionally, physically, and spiritually” in these susceptible times, and not just for herself:
“I’m in this super imaginative space where I want to present an element of joy in my shows because it’s important for us to have that in the midst of all this.”
Kristian also finds contentment in giving back. “Harriett’s Gun” is an all-black women's collective she heads.The group has organized community events in Fairground Park, where people from the neighborhood can gather safely while receiving free items like face masks, food and clothing.
This past summer, the group hosted a public event called “Revolver,” which paid homage to people lost to gun violence.
One of her proudest and most bodacious accomplishments was the Go-Fund-Me campaign she started this year for small, local, black-owned businesses affected by social unrest or the pandemic.
Blackmon heard that Cathy’s Kitchen in Ferguson was vandalized during protests after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. The restaurant, she said, is a favorite hangout for activists. Her friends were asking if there was a fund for struggling black businesses.
Blackmon couldn’t find one, so she started one. To date, she’s raised more than $25,000 and has contributed to Cathy’s Kitchen and other Black enterprises struggling during the pandemic. The response was so quick and generous, she said, she’s increased her goal to $40,000 to help even more Black businesses.
Staying mentally sound is an ongoing endeavor, Blackmon said. She found that talking about trying to take her own life has proven liberating:
“Sharing my testimony”
“Sometimes we’re made to feel shame for having low moments. The times I’ve shared my story, people say ‘you’re such a strong person … you do so much stuff.’ They tend to forget that we’re all human. Sharing my testimony has helped me tremendously but that vulnerability and honesty has helped others as well.”
Kristian uses the word “darkness” to describe her feelings before the suicide attempt.
“The crazy thing was that my mind was telling me a lot of negative things that I know weren’t real. But I wasn’t able to shake those feelings.”
Because of the pandemic, she recognizes that overwhelming darkness in people’s lives. Strangely, the fear, isolation and depression that’s affected others has inspired her:
“In this COVID environment, joy is important,” she explained. “So, now, instead of negative thoughts, I think about the platforms and opportunities I can create for others. I think about the new relationships and stronger connections I’ve built. I think about how I moved negative things out of my life that don’t serve me anymore.
“I think that even in the midst of this pandemic, I can create happiness and joy.”
Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.
To view the GoFundMe, visit https://tinyurl.com/Fund-Black-Business.