Surviving suicide: Conference at Northside Baptist Saturday Nov. 19

— Josh Graham was an artist whose work will never be seen in any gallery, whose drawings won’t be on display in any museum or sell out a show.

Josh died by suicide at 17 before he even graduated from high school.

“He’d been seen [by mental health professionals] several times, but it’s so difficult to diagnose in a young person,” said his mother, Debra Graham. “There wasn’t enough time for him to get a true diagnosis.”

In the weeks and months after his death, Graham sought answers and a way to channel her grief into something positive. She found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, with which she is now actively involved, and the Out of Darkness Walks, which seek to raise awareness about mental illness and suicide prevention.

“One day, I got a brochure in the mail, and I thought it was just junk mail,” Graham said. “I went to toss it out but the word ‘suicide’ caught my eye. It was telling me about the first Out of Darkness Walk in Long Island, and the date was significant – it was held on Josh’s 19th birthday.”

It felt like fate was directing Graham to the walk.

“I felt I needed to go for several reasons,” she said. “I could celebrate Josh’s birthday and see what it was all about. It was very empowering. There were about 600 people there, carrying pictures of their loved ones. I’d had no idea this many people were impacted by suicide. It was a wonderful way to memorialize loved ones. I felt like I needed to bring it to the Syracuse community.”

Graham and Mary Jean Coleman, executive director of the local chapter of the AFSP, organized the first Syracuse Out of Darkness Walk in 2006.

“We held the first walk six years ago,” Graham said. “About 65 to 68 people attended, which was more than I was expecting. We raised a little over $8,000. This year, 800 people attended, and we’ve raised $50,000 so far. We’re still taking donations.”

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