BOWIE — Immediately following the series closing match between the Bowie Baysox and the Portland Sea Dogs on Aug. 4, local community organizers, activists and celebrities assembled to show support and advocacy for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
Prince George’s Stadium partnered with local nonprofits Lauryn’s Law and the Leigh Bodden Foundation to host the Annual Lauryn’s Law Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness Day.
The event consisted of remarks by Linda Diaz, founder and CEO of Lauryn’s Law, remarks by former NFL defensive end Leigh Bodden (Northwestern High School), performances by local artists and a kickball game featuring a number of local celebrities including DJ Quicksilva, Miss Maryland 2019 Mariela Pepin, Visanthe Shiancoe, Chef Tobias, Hilarious Omar, Santana Moss, Aaron Maybin, Sherrell Rowe, Tae Sweizy and several others.
Lauryn’s Law, a nonprofit organization based in Laurel, specializes in bullying prevention, suicide prevention and mental health awareness in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. In 2016, Diaz founded the organization in memory of her daughter, Lauryn Santiago, who was a suicide victim in 2013 at the age of 15.
After having difficulties getting local partners to assist in going into underserved communities in the DMV for suicide prevention awareness, Diaz said she sought legislative help instead, which fortunately worked to her advantage.
“While I was having a problem getting that help, I realized that this was a lot bigger than I was, and we needed more help, so I decided to go to legislation,” Diaz said.
“The way that I formed Lauryn’s Law – I’m actually utilizing Lauryn’s Law in honor of my daughter, but it is also in honor of the two legislative bills that were passed in her name in 2015 and another in 2017.”
The local piece of legislation Diaz spoke in reference to was House Bill 0947 (May 2015), approved by Gov. Larry Hogan, which required the “Professional Standards and Teacher Education Board to require, beginning on or before July 1, 2016, specified certificate holders applying for renewal of a certificate as a school counselor to have obtained, by a method determined by the Board, specified knowledge and skills required to understand and respond to the social, emotional, and personal development of students.”
House Bill 920 (2017), also approved by Hogan, was geared toward mandating “all certificated school personnel who have direct contact with students on a regular basis to complete training, by Dec. 1 of each year, in specified knowledge and skills required to understand and respond to youth suicide risk and identify specified resources to help students in crisis.”
“One of the reasons why I stay and do a lot in Prince George’s County is because my daughter Lauryn was born, raised and died in Prince George’s County. And Lauryn was proud of her county, and she was proud to be here and be a resident,” Diaz said.
“It is important for me, to make sure that if I can create a foundation to shatter the stigma and have people start speaking about mental illness – I want it to come from the county that a lot of people did not help me to open doors and provide education.”
In years past, Diaz has partnered with the county executive’s office to hold annual 3K walks to bring awareness to mental health and suicide prevention. But this year, she decided to partner with the Leigh Bodden Foundation after Bodden reached out to her.
“Because of Leigh reaching out with regards to his kickball game, I decided not to have the walk this year and have Leigh Bodden to present his kickball game,” Diaz said.
“I want to make sure everyone understands that mental health is extremely important…the Leigh Bodden Foundation and Lauryn’s Law, we are always going to work together, and we are going to make sure that we continue to open doors. We’re going to support each other and make sure that we shatter the stigma together.”
Another one of the event’s coordinators, Joanne Coley, is the sister of Bodden. She has worked closely with Diaz to launch the collaborative effort between the two nonprofits and said she hopes to see yearly growth from the partnership.
“We just wanted to use this event to bring awareness, and if we can save somebody’s life that’s what we try to do,” said Coley, public relations specialist for the Leigh Bodden Foundation, which is based in Upper Marlboro.
“We’re just trying to tell everybody that ‘you are somebody, this world needs you.’ And like I said if we could save a life this year, and many more for years to come, that’s our goal.”
In honor of Bodden’s close childhood friend who was a suicide victim, Barry Sharp, the fun and competitive kickball event was named “Barry’s Game,” which resulted in Team “B You” defeating Team “B Somebody,” 5-3.
Moss, a former Pro Bowler and wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, expressed why he was a participant in the celebrity kickball game.
“When I heard of this cause, it’s something that we take for granted because it hasn’t hit home. It’s something that we don’t know much about because we don’t deal with it every day,” said Moss, also the founder of the “89 Ways to Give” campaign.
“But I know I dealt with family members and friends that had some of these symptoms, so I wanted to be here for the purpose and for the cause. I hope I could give a little more of my time (or) my resources to a matter like this and I think this is something that we ought to pay close attention to.”