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Monday, May 27, 2024
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"Hope Walks Here": Mercer student organizes third annual suicide prevention walk

On a bright Saturday morning in Tattnall Square Park, over two hundred people gathered to participate in Mercer's 2024 Out of the Darkness Campus Walk. Every spring, thousands of people all over the country walk in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) mission to bring hope to those affected by suicide. 

Will Spurlock ‘26, the student organizer for the event, had been preparing for the walk for months. He woke early before his alarm that morning, anxiously pacing until it was time to set up tables in the park. After everyone had arrived, the teams gathered in a semi-circle for the opening ceremony. 

As Spurlock was handed the microphone, he said he could feel his hands shaking. He knew he was speaking for his younger brother, who died by suicide last year at age 15. He was speaking on behalf of his family, his own struggle with suicide and for everyone whose lives had been shadowed by this specific form of loss. 

“That walk is the most I've ever put myself out there with anything my whole life,” Spurlock said. “But I got up there and told the struggle of myself and my brother.” 

Spurlock is a psychology major, minoring in religion and statistics. He’s the philanthropy chair for Lambda Chi Alpha, and he’s also involved in many other organizations on campus, such as Opportunity Scholars and Mercer Club Soccer. 

“I wouldn't say I'm well-known, but people know who I am on campus,” he said. “Everyone would see me mostly be like, happy, joking, like that kind of thing. And that doesn't represent everything I've been through.”

By sharing his story, Spurlock wanted to remind people not to make assumptions about others and to allow themselves to be vulnerable.

“I feel like that gives people permission to be both their public self and their private self. And that those aren't separate selves,” he said.

Despite having a good childhood, Spurlock said he always struggled with his mental health, especially as a teenager.

“I never had any of the traditional struggles, I guess, but I just never remember being happy or fitting in,” he remembered.

When COVID-19 disrupted his sophomore year of high school, the isolation was particularly difficult for him. During that time, he attempted suicide multiple times. But when he realized how much it affected his family, he knew something had to change. He started going to therapy at age 15.

“That really helped. That's actually what made me want to become a therapist, I am a psych major now. And so I actually started getting better from there. I became interested in mental health,” he said.

For a little while, things seemed to be going better his first year of college. Then, in April 2023, he lost his younger brother Sam to suicide. Sam loved computer science, parkour, and reading and writing.

“I’ve still never met anyone else quite like him,” Spurlock said. “He was a genius and he was a stud, but he was just the kindest, gentlest soul ever.”

After his brother’s death, Spurlock didn’t know what else to do, so he returned to school as he struggled with his grief.

Coincidentally, last years’ Out of Darkness suicide prevention walk occurred a week after Sam passed.

“The reason the walk was so important to me is because he passed away April 8. The walk was coincidentally scheduled to happen April 15, the next Saturday,” Spurlock said.

At the time, he did not know details about the walk or who had organized it. There were not many people who signed up, but that week his fraternity brothers rallied together to revive the walk and raised $1,500 in just a few days. When they invited Spurlock to the event, he didn’t know what to expect, but he showed up.

“I just saw the support, like, right when I needed it. It really made a big impact on me, so that was the biggest reason I decided to run it this year,” he said. 

Spurlock first agreed to organize the walk in October 2023, and started to reach out to different organizations on campus. Seven of his fraternity brothers were on the committee with him, and they helped table and spread word about the walk. Oliver’s and Margarita's, two local restaurants, agreed to sponsor the event. Spurlock also shared his experience at the student edition of Real Talk, an event on Mercer's campus where people have a platform to share their stories with the community.

As spring approached, people began to sign up

“Slowly the word spread, and then eventually I would just walk up to someone and they would be like ‘oh you’re doing the walk, what’s your name again?’ I never knew I’d be known around campus for something like that,” Spurlock said.

This year, 163 people registered for the walk, but between 200 and 250 people showed up to participate. Participants raised $12,600, beating the previous record of $12,500. 

Claire Flippin ‘22 also attended the 2024 walk. Flippin started the first Out of the Darkness Walk on Mercer’s campus in 2022. She organized the AFSP event because of her own personal struggles with suicide in her first few years of college. 

She participated in her first AFSP walk in Atlanta in 2019, and decided she wanted to bring the walk to Mercer the following year. She's proud to see how the event has grown since then.

“I think it's definitely really blossomed this year, and it's really exciting to see,” she said. 

Flippin is on the junior board for AFSP and her and her family volunteer with the Atlanta walk. She hopes that after the walk people were reminded to be there for others, and also for themselves. 

“Give yourself grace and time to take a step back and take care of your own mental health, and then understand the warning signs and what you can do to help your friends out,” she said.

Out of the Darkness walks support AFSP by growing awareness about suicide and depression, raising money for research and education, and providing mental health resources and support. The campus walks are specifically for high school and college students, and aim to engage young adults in the fight to prevent suicide, the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24.

During the walks, all participants wear honor beads, colored beads associated with different ways their lives have been affected by suicide. At the ceremony beforehand, each category was called, and participants raised their beads in the air and had a moment of silence for those lost. 

Spurlock led the walk around Tatnall Square Park, along with his parents. They carried a banner at the front of the line that read: “Hope Walks Here.”

Spurlock said the walk helped give others the courage to talk with him about their struggles as well as his own.

“A lot of people have lost people, and so then they will come up to you and talk to you about it,” Spurlock said. “That day, even after that walk, I had three or four people come out and be like, ‘hey, can I give you a hug? Like, I've lost this person too.’ And you know, it really touched me. So honestly, that's more valuable to me than all the money raised.” 

Spurlock plans to organize the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk the next two years as well. He encourages anyone who has a passion for the issue to join his committee and any business who would like to sponsor the event to reach out to him at william.t.spurlock@gmail.com

If you are in crisis, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting 741-741.




Eliza Moore

Eliza Moore ‘24 is an English and Journalism student at Mercer University. She is now in her second year working as The Cluster’s News Editor after a semester abroad. She is currently producing work for Macon Magazine and Georgia Public Broadcasting in addition to her work with The Cluster. She loves breakfasts, the ocean, and all things related to writing.


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