Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper
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Feb. 5, 2010

Staying strong in the face of tragedy

In times of joy, an unvanquished spirit manifests in our student body. Yet in times of tragedy, our school pulls together in an even more united front. The recent death of senior Paris Essoumba has brought an outpouring of support among the Blair community. Students, teachers and administrators alike encourage one other to "stay strong" during our period of collective grief. And indeed, the community has already formed networks of support and outlets for grieving, from Facebook groups to Friday, Feb. 5's "Freestyle Friday" event. Grief counselors were readily available to the student body, and teachers urged their classes to express their complex emotions upon hearing the sad news, rather than hold them in. In the wake of tragedy, Blazers prove themselves to be remarkably resilient, brave and supportive of one another.

We've faced two deaths in the past year but this one has rocked us even more. Paris's legacy included good sportsmanship, talented musicianship and being a devoted friend. We remember Paris as a remarkable and valued member of the community - an outstanding member of the varsity football team, the lead vocalist in Blair's own hip-hop group Those Guys and a gifted, frequent participant in open mics. Friends and teachers remember him as a kind, funny person.

"He was a brilliant poet," said English resource teacher Vickie Adamson. English teacher Michael Horne added that Essoumba's personality made him stand out in the classroom. "He had a personality that radiated and a great sense of humor," he said.

The wave of action and memorial that followed Essoumba's death is not unprecedented - after the deaths of students Tai Lam and Astride Avoume-Memine last year, we saw a similar wave of support and unity. Yet urging one another to "stay strong" in the face of a tragedy such as suicide requires extra strength. Though we cannot know the exact reasons for what transpired, we must realize the real risk of suicide in our community.

Staying strong in the wake of a death requires more than just words of sympathy. It requires the courage to ask peers how they are doing and truly listen, and paying attention to signs of depression or poor coping. It requires not just being one's own emotional pillar of support, but reaching out to others to help them as well. Of course, not all depression or suicidal thoughts are necessarily evident even to the closest friends. One must also have the courage to speak out if you are feeling hopeless, lost, grief-stricken or depressed.

Yet even in a time of grief, there is only acceptance to be found in every corner of Blair. In difficult times like these, the strength and love of the members of Blair community becomes more evident than ever. The family that is to be found in every hallway of Blair is always there for those who need it. Resources for coping with grief exist here, whether it's the open ears of a counselor or the open arms of a friend. There will always be a shoulder to lean on. There will always be a hand reached out for support. Our school's strength and love will always be here, but it is most present in times of tragedy.

The Montgomery County Mental Health Association Hotline can be reached at 301-738-9697. If you need help or are seeking help for a friend, trained counselors are on the other line.

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