They are good people.
Parents, with real, personal stories of years of crippling heartache because their kids aren't coming back.
Their stories stayed with me, long after the interviews were over.
Because in their loss is such an important lesson for all parents, now more than ever.
Kids are dying to an epidemic that doesn't discriminate.
From the suburb of Rocky River, to a Cleveland neighborhood on Kinsman.
Two moms. One terrible tie that binds. Unthinkable grief for both.
Rocky River High School Senior Micah Lewins’ 18th birthday was just 5 days before his death.
“He was a football player. He was a wrestler. He was a good, well rounded kid,” Micah’s mom Jane Lewins tells us.
We’re sitting in Jane’s Westlake office where throw pillows and everything positive feels like the comfiest of homes.
It’s where Jane counsels kids contemplating suicide or families surviving in spite of it.
She is unwillingly overqualified for the position.
“It was clearly a suicide. Micah had killed himself,” Jane recounts that moment she knows her mind’s eye will never erase. Seven years now and it’s still that relentless knot in this mother’s stomach.
“OH!!! That SMILE!!! That child had the biggest smile!” Marie Lassiter Black says of her son Tyree Black.
She says it with a smile of her own that has to be where Tyree got his and adds, “He played basketball. He was a dancer. He was just talented. He did the Jackson 5.”
It’s the pride that remains.
But the pain runs deep.
Marie’s kind eyes give away the hole in her heart that’s never going away. But it’s where 13-year-old Tyree still lives.
“It was a Friday night. I’ll never forget it. We found him upstairs. He had hung himself.
The words feel heavy in the air.
Sitting across from this mother of six, trying to grasp the gravity of how she lost her third child.
She explains Tyree was bullied at school. “They scared him to death,” Marie says of the 13-year-old with the smile she knows now, was skin deep.
“Suicide? Not THAT child. Not THAT child,” Maria leans in for emphasis when she finishes the sentence with what only hindsight would show, “THAT child”.
Two good moms.
Two different races.
Two sides of town.
Same pang of forever losing a child.
“I wanted desperately to crawl into bed and wait. Wait until Jesus’ coming again,” Jane keeps it real and recounts debilitating days, that now she thanks Jesus, have passed.
Neither mom saw it coming.
“It was an out of body experience. I went numb. I just lost it,” Marie says.
If only they knew then what they know now.
Micah Lewins was a high school wrestler, sidelined with a shoulder injury.
A totaled car in a drunk driving accident and subsequent DUI for the kid who was headed to college.
“He had an ROTC scholarship. He wanted to serve his country,” Jane says, still wondering how all that slips away in a second.
'I don’t want to be the screw up, mom. I’m not that kid.' It crushed him. Mom, you have no idea what this feels like. And he was right. I didn’t see it from his perspective,” Jane says candidly as a wakeup call for other parents.
Now they’re struggling to make sense of it in Stark and Summit Counties.
Seven gut-wrenching teen suicides in six months. Six of them students at Perry High School.
So many questions. One unavoidable fact.
This is a problem that will plague other families who don’t even know it yet.
Let these stats sink in: In Ohio, suicide is the NUMBER ONE cause of preventable deaths. There are more suicides than homicides according to the CDC.
Take the last seven leading causes of death like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. Suicide will take more lives than all SEVEN CAUSES COMBINED.
The loss, permeating the headlines, is not lost on moms who have been living with their own for years.
“Every story hits home and touches me just as if it was my child,” Marie says.
We could tell when we met her, she was that kind of mom.
So Marie extends her love for Tyree to every kid she can through the "Dancing For Life Tyree Black Organization."
“We want to reach people who are going through it. Marie says.
The big Dancing for Hope event happens the same time every year, right around Tyree’s birthday.
They celebrate the day he took his first breath in hopes no one else takes their last breath too soon.
Talk to your kids.
“We talk to our kids about stranger danger and birth control and drugs and alcohol. We need to talk to them about suicide,” Jane says from experience she wishes she could give back.
But she uses it to counsel others from what could be the brink of suicide.
“You begin to understand that you can’t do this alone. You have to offer hope to someone else that we are in this together,” Jane says.
So from the mom in Rocky River to the mom on Cleveland’s east side..
“If you’re going through this, you’ll get through it. You CAN. You WILL make it”. Marie Lassier Black is living proof.
And the mom who didn’t want to get out of bed is up. Moving. Making a difference. Seven years of saving who knows how many lives, in Micah’s memory.
“When he’s not here, what keeps him with me is being able to pay it forward,” says Jane Lewins.
Two moms. One message at the core: Have The Talk
(440) 892-7034 EXT 206
Marie Lassiter Black
24 HOUR Local Suicide Prevention Line
Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Referral and Information Hotline