Mere hours before New Year’s Eve, Bryce Gowdy’s life appeared to be on an upward trajectory. He was one of the best high school football players in Florida, was a good student and was set in January 2020 to become a spring semester enrollee on an athletic scholarship at Georgia Tech.
Then, he killed himself before ever arriving on campus for the new term. At 17 years old. Gowdy either stepped or jumped in front of a freight train, according to police reports.
Gowdy’s family had fallen on hard times, experiencing bouts of homelessness.
Bryce and his mother, Shibbon Winelle, had discussed the family’s plight in a spiritual sense. Winelle, on Facebook Live, related, “He kept asking if I was OK, if his brothers were going to be OK. I said, ‘Yeah.’’’
Winelle worked low-paying jobs with erratic paychecks. She had procured a hotel room to avoid continued living out of her car. When her sons ferried the family possessions to the hotel room, Winelle asked Bryce to retrieve her favorite blanket from the vehicle.
But he never returned.
“I knew in my heart he wasn’t (OK),” Winelle added. “He was talking in circles. The things he had to see me go through because we were homeless.”
Bryce Gowdy’s life ended as another alarming statistic that’s part of a horrible U.S. trend — the disturbing rise in suicides among black children and teenagers.
In 2019, New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman chaired the Emergency Task Force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The task force sponsored a study in conjunction with the New York University McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, led by Dr. Michael Lindsey.
Here are two key findings of that study:
— For black youth between the ages 10 and 19, suicide is the second-leading cause of death. In 2017, 3,000 black youths in this age group died by suicide. The study also noted that “the suicide death rate among black youth has been found to be increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group.”
— Self-reported suicide attempts for black youth rose 73 percent from 1991 to 2017, while self-reported suicide attempts for white adolescents dropped by 7.5 percent during that same time period.
Let’s be real here — These heart-breaking findings debunk a foolish and age-old belief in many parts of the black community: “You know we don’t kill ourselves. That’s for white folk.”
However, the sobering numbers cited above smack that antiquated line of thinking right into the stratosphere.
Moreover, there is that lingering question: Why would a young man with a seemingly promising future kill himself?
“He may have seen becoming homeless as exceptionally hopeless,” Dr. Mimi Chapman, associate dean for doctoral education in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, offered to InsideSources. “At that age, kids often see a world that can’t get any better, regardless of race. They just haven’t had the life experiences yet to realize things can get better.”
Or perhaps Gowdy suffered from a sort of survivor’s guilt, that is, knowing he eventually would live in a comfy dormitory room — with an abundance of food and amenities — at a major university while his family was left to fend for itself. For him, that could have been a test of morality.
According to the “Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” had Gowdy actually enrolled at Georgia Tech, he could have availed himself to clinical resources. Incoming athletes are pre-screened for mental-health issues. Counseling also is available to Tech athletes.
In fact, the athletic department recently hired its own full-time sports psychologist, the AJC reported. And, financially, Gowdy could have received a cost-of-attendance stipend ($1,600 per semester) and possibly been eligible to receive a Pell Grant.
Still, the speculation regarding the “why” for Gowdy seems endless.
Additionally, in a “children’s opportunity index” study conducted by the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., findings revealed that of the 10 million kids living in so-called low-opportunity neighborhoods, 4.5 million are Hispanic and 3.6 million are black.
And that study, highlighted by the AXIOS website publication, showed:
— The hardest place to grow up is Bakersfield, Calif., where more than half of residents under 18 live in low-opportunity neighborhoods. The best is Madison, Wis.
— Cities with the greatest opportunity gaps include Detroit, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. For example, there’s a neighborhood in Detroit with a study score of 95, among the best in the country for children, while one scored 2. A kid born in the better neighborhood likely will earn much more and live up to seven years longer than another child born even a few miles away.
Another pertinent question: What is the access and recognition of mental-health services for black folk in this nation?
Said California Congresswoman Karen Bass, who is chair of the CBC, in a statement, “For far too long, a stigma against mental-health assistance has plagued the black community. We must sound the alarm on the crisis of suicide rates among our youth and come together to build healthy communities.”
In the memory of Bryce Gowdy and so many others. Unfortunately.
Gregory Clay is a Washington columnist and former assistant sports editor for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.