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Suicide and the Black Church – 10th national Conference speaks to the ongoing suffering

Nearly 300 people are expected to attend The 10th National Suicide & the Black Church Conference Wednesday and Thursday (June 14-15) at Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Macon Cove Campus.

For conference host Pastor Dianne P. Young this will be her first time hosting the gathering her husband, the late Dr. William M. Young Sr., founded more than two decades ago. This year’s theme is Anchored in Hope.

The STCC conference site is 5983 Macon Cove.

Dr. Young also was founding bishop of The Healing Center, a ministry that grew out of a deep compassion for “a suffering community.”

Young became the first African-American chaplain in the Methodist Hospital System in the state of Tennessee. His work with mental health professionals revealed a startling truth early in his ministry.

Mental health issues in the African-American community could be addressed through the “Black church community.”

“Bishop Young’s Suicide & the Black Church Conference grew out of that concept; the Black church could be instrumental in dealing with depression, suicidal tendencies, and emotional trauma we often see in our people,” said Pastor Young. “Black people did not historically trust mental health professionals, so they would never talk to them. But Black people will talk to their pastor.”

Dr. Jay Barnett

This year’s two-day event is headlined by author and mental health expert Dr. Jay Barnett, who also was a former NFL player.

Barnett, a suicide survivor, has a compelling personal and inspiring story “all who hear him,” Pastor Young said.

Also appearing is Tamu Lewis, a mental health professional and sister of actor Lee Thompson Young, who took his life on Aug. 19, 2013. He was only 28 years old.

Suicide & the Black Church Conference is held every two years. In between conferences are the luncheons that will host some of the region’s leading counselors on mental health and new developments in the field.

“My wonderful husband passed on Oct. 9, 2022,” said Pastor Young. “For 46 years, we were partners, not only in life, but also in ministry.

“There was never a question as to whether Suicide & the Black Church Conference would continue. It is important work and integral part of Bishop Young’s legacy. I look forward to this conference with great excitement and expectation.”

Dr. Young often recounted how Suicide & the Black Church resulted from suicide.

A Healing Center congregate had been calling for a counseling appointment. Bishop Young, like other young pastors, was juggling a myriad of duties.

Unfortunately, a schedule conflict occurred, and the appointment had to be reset for the next morning.

Hours before the victim was to meet with Bishop Young, she arrived at the church before daybreak, stood under the large, white cross on the grounds, and shot herself in the head.

An early morning call from Memphis police summoned Bishop and Pastor Young to the scene. Stunned, Dr. Young struggled with guilt and regret, which God helped him work through.

Committing suicide under the cross had substantial implications for Dr. Young. Working through his own grief and sense of loss infused a new sense of purpose in helping people get help for mental health issues.

Suicide & the Black Church Conference brought meaning to that devastating suicide under the cross.

“We are just so happy because this is the first, in-person conference since the pandemic,” said Pastor Young. “This year’s theme is ‘Anchored in Hope,’ and we are hopeful that delegates will draw our presenters and return home empowered to save lives.”

The Healing Center is at 3885 Tchulahoma in Oakhaven.

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