Part of the Hiding in Plain Sight blog series
Written by Hansa Bhargava, Senior Medical Director at WebMD and Medscape, Author and Pediatrician
May 26, 2022 / Forbes
Samira Dean will always remember the day her daughter graduated from high school. Like most parents, she was beaming as she looked at her child wearing her cap and gown. But for her this was much more than graduation – it was her vision and end goal, with many years in the making; a journey besot with homelessness, gang violence, and a suicide attempt. Ultimately overcome with courage, perseverance, and faith.
Growing up in the streets of San Diego, Samira grew up in a culture of stress, violence, and gang warfare. It was normalized, she states, to be part of a gang and it cycled through generations of people who would be born into that way of living. “There were only two outcomes if you stay in that lifestyle – death or prison.” According to a recent report by the CDC, gun violence is the leading cause of death amongst youth, and per a recent report in JAMA Pediatrics, 62% of these youth deaths occur in impoverished counties.
At 18, she left home with her baby because she felt she was not getting the love she needed from her family. It would be a tough few years, being homeless and sleeping on a different couch every few days. She would sometimes use her welfare check to pay for a hotel room for herself and her young daughter. When she became incarcerated for theft, she felt she hit rock bottom. In jail, she struggled to find answers and turned to the bible and prayers to help her find her way. After being in jail for 85 days awaiting her prison sentence, she felt her prayers had been answered when the judge decided to set her free. Seeing this as a chance to change, she gathered her courage and moved herself across the country with her child to Atlanta, away from family and gangs.
Although she made a radical change, there were to be many challenges ahead. Samira put a down payment of 2 months to rent a small apartment, found a job, and settled her daughter, Majee, in school. Unfortunately, soon after, she received some bad news. Her 10-year-old daughter’s uncle, to who her child was very close, was murdered. It was a domino effect for her daughter. Not only did she lose her close uncle, but her dad also withdrew from her life as he tried to cope with the death. Majee, coping with the move, the death, and the changes started acting out, and one day Samira received a terrible call from her friend, who told her that Mae, who was now 15, had tried to take her life.
Suicide, in youth, is the second leading cause of death, and over 15% of teens have seriously considered suicide. The Jed Foundation, whose vision is to prevent suicide and resiliency in youth, has a comprehensive proven approach that includes social connectedness, such as community, crisis management, and the development of life skills. Samira found some of those assets in a church community in Roswell, GA.
Distressed, troubled, and trying to cope with this alone, Samira reached for the lifeline that she felt had helped her through rough times before prayers and church. She found a church that had a wonderful pastor in a new area of town, who took the time and nurtured them with support and mentoring. “I needed community as a single mom. The pastor, after preaching, would take the time to talk to my daughter.”
The church also granted them scholarships for Majee to attend summer programming there. Majee started changing. Soon, not only was she back at school, but she joined cheerleading and got a job at a restaurant. Majee was incredibly grateful to her mom and the church, stating “I love church; they are the true representation of family for me.”
Samira is now involved in helping others find courage and support. She preaches at different correctional facilities across Georgia and is the Head Leader of the Prison Ministry at her church, World Harvest Church. She hopes to have her own non-profit organization in the future to help those leaving prison and their families. When asked about what advice she would give to others who are struggling, she passionately states ‘Trust in God with all your heart…he will see you through…and stay encouraged.’
She added, “I would also say these three things. Don’t give up on your child; love your kids. Also, be the change you want to see in your child. And lastly, find a village to support you. It takes everyone.”
About the Author
Hansa Bhargava is Senior Medical Director at WebMD and Medscape, Author and Pediatrician
The “Hiding in Plain Sight” blog is a series leading to the upcoming 2022 documentary Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, produced and directed by Ewers Brothers Productions, executive produced by Ken Burns, and presented by WETA, the PBS flagship station in our nation’s capital.
If you are in crisis, or experiencing thoughts of suicide, please text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741), or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.