How 13 Reasons Why Helped Me Cope With My Own Student’s Suicide

Suicide is one of the realest things you will ever have to deal with, if you’re one of the unlucky ones. For the rest of y’all, I envy you. Hopefully, and I genuinely hope this for each and every one of you, the topic and discussion remains firmly outside your comprehension and life experience.

Now, to all of the young boys, girls, men, women, students, parents, mentors, mentees, and every Gender Neutral individual out there. Welcome. Welcome, all my neglected and skeptical. All the scared and wounded. All the scarred and depressed, mistreated and spurned. To every rejected, and dejected human on this floating, orbiting, decaying blue and green rock, you are not alone. There are people out there who want to connect with you, hear your message and need your truth in order to help them unearth theirs buried deep beneath a mantle of fake smiles and empty words. I truly hope anyone reading this knows they are truly loved, wanted and appreciated by many out there in this vast expanse. There are ALWAYS options. Your life is valued. More than you probably know.

This is something Hannah Baker did not know. But there are lessons to be found everywhere, even in death. Hannah’s suicide and the 13 tapes she left behind turned into one of the more jarring moments of my life. I thought I could handle this story with ease. I didn’t think my own students death would impact me very much. I was wrong. I was so very wrong. It fucking HURT. I fucking cried. An action Black men are conditioned to eliminate, yet he fucking cried. It dredged up old memories. It made me question many decisions I made in that year leading up to my students passing. This feeling of guilt and regret clings to my consciousness like a putrid stench. I reek, and there is no shower to cleanse me of a lost life. All I can do now is learn from that painful experience and ensure nothing like that happens to another bright future.

As much as this show rocked me to the very fiber of my being, it helped me put so many things into perspective. Despite how much you remember or feel like you know about high school, we have no fucking clue. High school has evolved. High School students have evolved. We ain’t have nudes to send out/that got sent out to hundreds of peers and classmates. We didn’t have easy, acceptable access to drugs and alcohol like today’s party people. Most of us didn’t have the privilege that many of Hannah’s classmate have. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what background and upbringing someone comes from. Everyone suffers; some worse than others.

I now have such a heightened sense of awareness (or at least I convinced myself that I do) of these things. I know people will try notice more signs that someone might be suffering. I for one know I’ll never let a “minor” comment go without a proper response. I never turn down a student who is internally begging for someone to talk to. I spit bars with my young scholars, developing an unexpected and unorthodox paternal bond they sometimes know no knowledge of. And I talk to my maturing 9th grade boys because a conversation to them is like a beluga whale, foreign and relegated to white folk in white lands.

But this is a tv show at the end of the day, right? Can we talk about the greatness that went down in what is becoming the most popular show in Netflix history?! Seeing Clay Jensen transform this show from 13 Reasons Why to 13 ways Clay gives 0 fucks about your reputation and future! Or better yet, 13 ways Clay shows he woke AF and will roundhouse dropkick all these conscience bars into your cranium! Seeing that much good and righteousness in someone who winds up being the unexpected hero, was endearing. Clay ended up being such a refreshment in today’s constant (mis)portrayal of the good guys: Superheroes with unfathomable powers, uber masculine and overly dramatized military personnel, mutants, larger than life celebrities and slick talking, evil-doing politicians. My man Clay was just an ordinary dude! Just a regular Joe Schmo looking to survive 2 more years of high school and maybe kiss a girl before he walks onto a college campus.

Then this scrawny french fry of a determined kid with a heart of gold said FUCK. THAT. SHIT.

Clay was guided by the big homie, Tony, and would not take this suicide lying down once he started hearing the horrific muck of shit that happened and caused his friend and love interest to kill herself. Ohhhhh CLAY WASN’T HAVIN THAT SHIT!! My mans keyed up cars, pressed jocks, coerced confessions, and forced scumbags to take a serious look in the mirror and accept the monsters that they’d become. Clay reminded me that there are plenty of good kids out in the world. Kids who would never let a rapist walk through the hallways of his high school unscathed. Kids who transform malicious little snots into empathetic champions of social justice. People like Clay are the role models students should be looking up to. People like Clay helped me overcome the lingering torment I’ve felt since my student took her own life. 13 Reasons Why, I thank you for this.

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  • Ja-Quan is a NYC teacher and artist holding a B.A. in Sociology and History from SUNY New Paltz. On his journey to become Hokage, the Lord of The Speed Force and Protector of the Recaps can be found North of The Wall, chopping it up on Twitter @OGquankinobi

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