“I can’t get help. I can be strong for my parents. I can’t get help. I can be strong for my sister’s friends. I can’t get help. I was the third pick in the draft. I have to be tough. I can’t let anyone else see me get help, otherwise I’m making excuses.”
These are the things that Solomon Thomas told himself in one of the darkest moments of his life. He was mourning the death of his sister, Ella, who died by suicide three years ago. At the time, he suffered from depression, barely able to muster the energy to do anything.
Thomas, then a member of the San Francisco 49ers, wasn’t comfortable seeking help until he was approached by John Lynch, general manager of the team, about addressing his mental health issues. That moment gave him permission to feel that sadness–and learn how to conquer it, Thomas said.
Now, Thomas wants to be that force for others. A nudge in the right direction. A voice saying: “It’s OK to not be OK.”
Thomas, a defensive tackle for the Las Vegas Raiders and former third overall pick in the NFL draft, will speak Monday, Oct. 25 during a virtual talk for boys involved with Milwaukee’s Safe and Sound. The organization focuses on building safe neighborhoods by connecting the community and law enforcement.
In an interview with Milwaukee NNS, Thomas said the goal of the discussion is to help kids feel more comfortable seeking help and having conversations about their feelings. Thomas said Black men, in particular, are often told to “toughen up” or “get over it” because of social pressures. He wants to change that narrative.
‘It’s about going through the tough times’
He said because of the COVID-19 pandemic and social media, kids today face challenges that no other generation has had to endure. Making sure they know the importance of mental health is critical.
“We live in a day and age of social media where all you see is good and everything’s going great, and that’s the highlight reel,” Thomas said. “That’s not life. Life is about the ups and downs. It’s about adversity. It’s about going through the tough times.”
Thomas said creating an environment for young people to be able to talk about their feelings without judgment or worry is one of his biggest goals.
“We want to make a world where it’s safe for everyone to honor their emotions and find help,” Thomas said. “We want them to just have safe spaces, have friends, have family members, have strangers where they can go to connect and be vulnerable.”
Arielle Mayer, the District 2 youth coordinator for Safe and Sound and an organizer of the event, said the talk is part of the group’s Barbershop Monday series, a set of discussions in which youths get their hair cut in the community feeling of a barbershop. The haircuts will be at the Don & Sallie Davis Boys and Girls Club, 1975 S. 24th St.
The event will start with vignettes from the play “Pieces of My Own Voice” by Brenda Wesley, the chairwoman of the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board’s community engagement committee. Then, the youths will have a chance to speak with actors in the performances.
Afterward, they will hear Thomas’ story and have a chance to ask him questions.
Mayer hopes having the youths watch an NFL player talk about his struggles will remind them that mental health isn’t something to hide.
“This is not a shameful thing, this is not a strange thing, it’s a very human thing,” Mayer said.
Thomas said it’s important to remind young people that the world is a better place because they’re in it, and no one needs to go through life alone.
“There’s so much more light out there in the midst of darkness,” Thomas said.
For more information
The event will be hosted on the Rogers Behavioral Health Facebook Page at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25. It’s co-sponsored by Rogers Behavioral Health, Safe and Sound and MIRACLE, an initiative that seeks to bring mental health discussions to Black faith communities in Milwaukee.
The event also is connected to The Defensive Line, the nonprofit founded by Thomas that focuses on youth suicide prevention, especially in communities of color.
In case you missed it: Rise in suicides among Black youths fuels concern among Milwaukee psychologists, counselors