Saturday, March 28, 2009

for colored girls who have cosidered suicide when the rainbow is enuf

for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf has saved my life on several different occasions and continues to do so even now. Though I have never actually contemplated suicide. I have dealt with a lot of the issues in the book first hand.

To start, the book is actually what Ntozake Shange has dubbed, a choreopoem which intertwines poetry, drama, prose, performance, dancing and music into one short, profound work of literature that will change your life. I had to read it for an African American Literature class in college. I read it twice for class and have continued to reread it through the years. Every time I read it I discover something new about the ladies dressed in the colors of the rainbow and about myself.

I lent my copy of the work to a student who is near and dear to me. She gave me my first "teacher moment" when I started teaching. I was immediately drawn to her because she is exactly what and where I was at her age. I love her the way I should have loved myself when I was 17.

She borrowed the book and did not want to return it. She said she had a hard time adjusting to the vernacular in the work, but once she figured it out it made sense. I would have given it to her, but I don't think I can stand not having a copy in my possession at all times.

I lent it to her because she told me she once considered suicide. I wanted her to read it because I needed to have read it when I was her age. She understood the meaning of the work. She understood that overcoming life shattering obstacles comes from connection and community. She understood that in order to move to the end of her rainbow, she needed to find others who would support and love her unconditionally. She got it. I got it, but I really couldn't apply it until she came to me on Thursday.

Thursday morning she came to me and told me she seriously considered killing herself the night before. She told me she'd told another teacher who had shrugged it off. I immediately get on the phone and call my mom to get the number to the behavioral health center in my county. I also gave her other numbers she could use off the top of my head. She went back to class and I walked to my car and fought back tears.

I got home and call my mom back to ask for advice. She told me I needed to tell someone. I turn to To Write Love On Her Arm's website. They have a huge section called "find help" which gives you numbers to call if you need help or know someone in need of help.

I did, so I called. I called the National Suicide Prevention Hotline(1-800-SUICIDE) and spoke to a woman who told me exactly what to do. She informed me that I had a legal obligation to let my supervisor know and that the student absolutely could not leave school before she called someone and arranged treatment. She gave me phone numbers to my county crisis center and a number to a place where she could call to get treatment.

I wrote all of this down feverishly and went back to school. Mom called while I was on the way back to school and reminded me to stay calm. She knew I was on the verge of tears and hysteria before she dialed.

I got to the school, told the powers that be and they handled it. They surrounded her with love and support. They talked to her. They listened to her. They called me to see exactly what my concern was. By the time she left school, she had a place to go to get treatment.

And she wasn't upset with me. Well, she was when they pulled her out of class, but she got over it. She understood what happened. She understood that people love her and want to see her get better. I told her the world would be a duller place without her and that I did what I did because I couldn't live with her light being extinguished when there was something I could have done to help her.

Before Thursday, she "waz missin somethin / somethin so important / a laying on of hands." For so long I have had to overcome adversity and hard times alone. I now realize that I no longer have to go at it alone, whatever it may be. She now understand this too.

I have a support system. I have surrounded myself with people who love me and care deeply about my well being. I have, as KP kept telling me I would, found my tribe.

I am part of her tribe and she is part of mine. We have each other. Now that she and I realize it, adversity doesn't seem so bad.


  1. Reading this post brings tears to my eyes. We need lots and lots and lots more people like you in the world. I'm glad you followed through to find out what to do and then did it. No person, young or old, making statements about suicide should be taken lightly. Now you have the resources and know what to do if...well when you encounter this moment again.

    I never read this book (see, I told you that I'm going to get a book list from you), but I do have a book of Ntozake's poems that I got from a friend as a graduation present from high school.

    I'm going to put something on my blog about this and link people back to you. Very well written (of course) and very relevant!!!!

    p.s. I'm a little thrown that your school hadn't already done a training to cover what should happen in this and other situations. Is this a full time gig or sub? Either way, you should encourage them to put out at least a reminder or post something in the teacher's lounge.

  2. Thank you for your kind words. Thank you for the link back. :)

    It is a must read. It is 68 pages that will change your life.

    The school very well may have policies about it. I don't know a lot of them because I am sort of a mid-season replacement and I never got the teacher's handbook. Everything I know about the policies comes up as I ask. Right now I am part time, but if hired full time (which is a possibility) I'll know more.

    I am just really grateful that the student trusted me enough to tell me. I acted in her best interest because I think that's what she was asking me to do.

    I'd do it for any student that needed help. Like I said, I don't have the handbook, but I'm pretty sure it's in the job description. :)

  3. We get a lot of training on this as RAs in residence halls on campus and hearing your first hand account here reminds me why I'm so glad they review it with us. It's such a difficult situation as you feel like this girl's life is in your hands and you need to do everything you possibly can to help her.

    Overall, you did a great job Nina, thanks for sharing it with us. The book's still on my Amazon shopping cart, and it will get ordered one day. This just pushed me one step closer to clicking order right away.

  4. Thank you for being there for her. The whole time I was reading this I was scared the story was going to turn out another way.


Have a comment/advice/rant? Leave it here!