Out of the Darkness
Be the Light Walk offers hope for suicide prevention
By Daniel Kramer
GREEN BAY – More than 1,500 people armed with ponchos, umbrellas and candles braved the wind and rain Saturday night to mark World Suicide Prevention Day during the 14th annual Be The Light Walk in downtown Green Bay.
Deann Vasseau Petersen, who’s son committed suicide in 2016, has been participating in the walk for five years.
“My son was 20 years old when he committed suicide on Sept. 22, 2016. He saw no hope… Like a small problem to us would be a huge problem to him and he just couldn’t find his way… (His name was) Kenneth Petersen, everyone knew him as Kenny. He went to Green Bay East, class of 2014.”
She said after their loss, they were looking for different support outlets and her son’s dad found Be The Light.
“We’ve been doing it ever since. The way I look at it is, I couldn’t save my own son but I’ll be darned if I’ll let another parent bury their own child,” she said. “It’s a good time to reflect and be in the moment. There is so much stigma behind suicide.”
According to the Be the Light Walk press release, more than 850 Wisconsin residents die by suicide each year.
Vasseau Peterson said the key is to offer people hope.
“No matter how big things might be at the moment, things do get better and they will figure themselves out. You just have to keep on pushing.”
One month after her son’s suicide, Vasseau Petersen started the 920 Suicide Awareness Facebook page.
“I get random messages from people who reach out to that page and I’ll stay up with them until they need to go, and I’ll give them the resources and just let them talk away. Sometimes it just takes a friendly ear to realize that things really aren’t that bad at the moment. Nobody knows who I am on the other side of the screen. They just know I’m a mom and that I care.”
Besides the candlelight walk, the event also included a resource fair, live music, Mayor Eric Genrich and keynote speaker Michael Rounds.
There was also a memorial wall where people could share loved one’s stories and a hope wall where people could place something that represents someone who many have attempted suicide.
“We encourage participants to come up and place poems, pictures, anything that represents a message of hope and healing for others, said Sarah Donovan, chair of the Be the Light Walk committee. “We have one woman who brings quilts whose son passed away from suicide some 20 years ago.”
Donovan said it’s important to address people’s fear of acknowledging thoughts of suicide or hopelessness so that they can feel comfortable reaching out for help from family or friends or any other person who is willing to listen and provide support.
“Suicide is a very lonely time and it’s a decision that can’t be undone. There are so many people that are afraid to say that they are feeling hopeless because they’re afraid of being rejected or that people might think less of them. So we want them to feel comfortable asking for help and support from all of the people that care and would be willing to help walk them out of that darkness and into the light.”
Proceeds from the walk will benefit the Brown County Coalition for Suicide Prevention.