There is a special story behind the B-K (Baumann-Kovar) Blackbirds. Our team was formed by the family of Michael Gerard Baumann, who we lost to suicide just over four years ago. One of Michael's favorite songs was the Beatles' "Blackbird" with its wonderful simplicity and acoustic guitar melody. Ironically, the lyrics of Blackbird spark a new poignancy for me as I listen to the song and cry my tears of loss remembering Michael playing and singing his rendition..."take these broken wings and learn to fly...all your life..." If only it were that easy for everyone.
It has taken four years before I have been ready to speak about what happened to my brother, and even now, I really cannot speak about it. I cannot yet laugh and smile in the joy of remembering my brother's amazing personality without simultaneously shedding tears. I feel his absence as strongly today as I did that very first day - as many of us do. In spite of this reality for me, I am now ready to take a first, small step forward by joining with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the top global organization working to prevent suicide, to bring awareness and needed funding to their bold goal to reduce the suicide rate 20% by 2025.
Since the loss of Michael, I have spent some time learning more about suicide here in the United States and the data is staggering. Here is what I discovered...
In 2015, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) published the following statistics:
When we break down the data by age group, we learn that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 15 to 34 year olds and in the top 5 causes for all age groups under 54. Another way to look at this information - for every adult under 34 years old, there is a greater risk of death by suicide than either cancer, heart disease, or HIV.
In addition, Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women and white males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015. While this data is considered the most accurate available, it is estimated that the numbers are higher. Stigma surrounding suicide leads to underreporting, and data collection methods critical to suicide prevention need to be improved. I understand this first hand.
Given these compelling facts, one would hope that our country and citizens were responding proportionately with campaigns of awareness and sufficient funding for efforts to help victims and prevent suicide. This is no where near the reality. Through my research, I learned that the AFSP DOES NOT MAKE THE LIST of [Forbes] the top US charities in 2016 based on dollars of donations received. The AFSP raised only $21.8 M in 2016 while The American Diabetes Association (#100 on the list) raised more than 6 times that amount. We need to do more!
In April 2016, the New York Times reported that the "...overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation's suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986."
As you know, it is not often that I reach out to my closest family and friends to ask for help, but this is a problem we cannot ignore - especially as those whose lives have been personally impacted.
When David, Simon and I walk next Saturday it will not be far in distance, but we hope it will be miles in significance as we will walk for Michael and all of you as well. Please help us give back - if you are inclined, join us in Chicago to walk along Lake Michigan - or donate what you can.
To donate online, please select "Roster" and then choose one of the team members listed. Once you're on their page, click "Donate Now." Donations can only be made to individuals, but the total each participant raises goes toward our team goal.
All donations are 100% tax deductible and will help bring AFSP one step closer to achieving their bold goal to reduce the suicide rate 20% by 2025.
Love to you all - Lauren