MOULTRIE, Ga. — Tuesday night, Sept. 10, the Colquitt County Courthouse Square was filled with music and lights for the Be the Light Night event from the Yellow Elephant.
The night brought recognition to “the elephant in the room”: the topics of suicide and the stigma that mental illness carries.
The Yellow Elephant’s founder Michelle Cope was attempting to juggle the organization’s events, all the while maintaining a smile on her face.
“We all have elephants in the room that we need to talk about and address,” said Cope, “and no matter what age you are, what race you are, we’re in this together.”
There were people of all ages in Yellow Elephant t-shirts. The Yellow Elephant tent was selling them for $20 and the various elephant decals for $3. Among the iconic yellow elephants, which stands for suicide prevention, were camouflage print elephants for the military and orange ones for self-harming victims. Cope’s mother, Connie Bragg, manned the table.
“We want them to be able to come and talk about it,” Bragg said. “We’ve got a decal for people who suffer from epilepsy; a lot of times they won’t talk about their problems either and we want them to feel comfortable about it. We’ve got one for medics and firemen and policemen. Those people face all kinds of stuff every day and they keep it bottled up, and sometimes it gets to be too much.”
The decals could be seen on the backs of many attendees’ vehicles as they pulled up to the Square.
“You’re going to be seeing a lot more of those around the city,” said Bragg. “More and more people are showing their support and we couldn’t be more grateful.”
The event started with a rousing performance from the ladies of Colquitt County Therapeutic Drumming, a group of schoolteachers and school social workers who use the drumming techniques of African countries to counsel and help at-risk students who might succumb to a mental illness like depression or anxiety.
“We’re trying to start thinking outside of the box when it comes to reaching students,” said Tabitha Baldy, director of Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Supports in Colquitt County. “It’s part of our multi-tiered system of supports that we offer to students of Colquitt County.”
The research on drumming show that it can decrease signs of depression and truancy and increase self-confidence, self-regulation and self-awareness, according to Baldy. The group has been participating since February.
The theme of the night was camaraderie and bringing the community together to combat the stigma of mental illness — and what better way to show the strength of the community than to have the community speak out about it?
High schoolers Hanna Norman and Bella Barfield gave accounts of their brave journeys through depression, followed by a short speech from Belinda Allen, a local mother who lost her son las year.
“Anyone who is feeling like they’re alone, feeling like they don’t have anyone to turn to or that the world would be a better place without you in it, I promise you it won’t be,” said Barfield during her speech. “And if you have no one else, you have me, you have God and you have a family.”
The event was bookended by a performance from the local gospel band 4 After 5 and the candlelight vigil, which saw the Square light up with candlelight from the community and was accompanied by a rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Annie Eubanks.
“My daughter went through the same situation that a lot of the people here have gone through,” said Marsha McGee, an attendee at the event. “So, we’re here to support her and the community.”
There are plans for a partnering event with the Mellow Mushroom in Valdosta for a charity event for one of their employees, as well as a partnership with Cinema for a Cause and the Moultrie Theater on Sept. 29.