This is a guest post by Victoryforu’s Darius Smith. Darius is a trustee of Oxfordshire Youth and is on a mission to empower and inspire the youth of today. In October 2020, Darius took part in a PAPYRUS Instagram takeover, and wrote this blog about how Black History Month has impacted his mental wellbeing.

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Darius Smith. I am 22-years-old and I am a very creative person. From dancing, blogging to content creation, I do a lot. I recently made a video about my journey with mental health and suicide with the help of PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide and I feel so honoured that they asked me to write a guest blog for them.

As it is Black History Month, I have been extremely reflective about the impact that this month has had on my life, especially this year. Growing up in a white town, in a white school, with white morals and principals, it was very hard to be anything else but white. You could count the number of people of colour in my primary school on three hands… and that was in a good year. I was one of the only dark-skinned black kids in the whole school which meant I stood out like a sore thumb. Being aware of that as a child makes you act differently, I was very much one way at school and one way at home because I wanted to fit in and make friends… but that was the worst mistake I could have made.

At age seven, my so-called ‘best friend’ at the time said that, “Life would be so much better if I wasn’t in it, so just go and kill yourself.” To hear that as a seven-year-old was heart-breaking and I equated a lot of that to my race. I questioned myself – If I was white, then maybe he would still be my friend or wouldn’t say such horrible things to me? As well as being black, there were many other things that made me stand out: I danced, I was very expressive and I had many female friends… at the time that was apparently a crime. I wrote an article on my own blog Victoryforu called ‘Ain’t nobody’s Dance Monkey’ depicting my love/hate relationship with dance and how it created a subservient mindset within me. To be like that as a young child is extremely exhausting, and this was only the beginning of the trauma.

Once I got to secondary school, racism got a lot worse and it was apparent everywhere. From the ways that teachers treated me to how I was consistently bullied, school became a living terror for me. I very much felt like a worthless black body living in a white world. People would touch me, my hair, hit me and shout abuse at me unwarranted and I unfortunately I accepted it to save myself from being tarnished with the angry black man trope. Even the crushes that I had on girls were tainted by the trauma of being bullied.

I was constantly being bombarded by all of this and the only safe space I had was home with my parents who you saw in my video. They really encouraged me in many ways, whether that was in my faith, in my talents or by teaching me about my history. Black history month – or any history day or month that honours anyone outside of the male, white, straight, able-bodied norm – really can help the mental health of a lot of people. When dealing with racial trauma, not just current trauma, but trauma that has been passed down through generations, it becomes very difficult to love yourself or respect yourself when no one else seems to. In light of the atrocities that have happened and are happening this year, from George Floyd’s murder to the deaths of Belly Mujinga and Shukri Abdi. The vast atrocities taking place in Nigeria (End SARS!), Yemen, Namibia and Beirut have been changing how many have seen themselves.

I am beyond grateful to God and to my parents that they taught me things that school never did such as the greatness of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Mary Seacole to name a few who rose up against adversity. Those lessons have inspired me to do the same. I guess in many ways people can describe me as an activist or an advocate but a lot of what I do and speak about is simply me just standing up for what I believe in. Through doing this, I am learning more about loving myself and the skin that I am in whilst learning to respect everyone around me no matter our differences. This is why I believe Black History Month is so important for young black people, especially those who have suffered from mental health issues. It provides a source of hope and self-love, a reminder that no matter how much pain and pressure black people have been through, we can come out like diamonds.

My mental health journey is not a success story as I am not at the end, however, it is on the way up. I am certainly not in the dark spaces that I used to be in anymore, this is because of many contributory factors, prayer, family, counselling and learning more about black history. One of my biggest heroes is someone who is super close to me, my grandma. Many may know her as Pride Of Britain award winner Icolyn ‘Ma’ Smith MBE – for the last 30 years, she has been providing food, comfort and support for the homeless community in Oxford in spite of any racism, any opposition or discrimination. She treats everyone with love and respect and I believe that is also a huge part of improving your mental wellbeing. Being respected and feeling seen.

I am so passionate about diverse histories being taught in schools on a mandatory level in order to accommodate all of the pupils that reside in our schools, not just the white ones. Because when you are seen, may that be in the media, in school or in history, you begin to feel like your life is truly worth living.

This is your reminder… It is worth living and it always will be!

If you’re aged 35 and and under and are experiencing thoughts of suicide; or you’re concerned for a young person who might be, call HOPELINE247 on 0800 068 4141, text 88247 or email HOPELINE247 is open from 9am to midnight every day of the year.

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