Samira Dean will always remember the day her daughter graduated from high school. Like most parents, she was beaming as she watched her child wearing her cap and dress. But for her, it was more than graduation – it was her vision and her end goal, with many years to come; a journey plagued by homelessness, gang violence and attempted suicide. Finally overcome with courage, perseverance and faith.
Growing up on the streets of San Diego, Samira grew up in a culture of stress, violence and gang warfare. It was normal, she says, to be in a gang and it passed through generations of people who would have been born into this way of life. “There were only two outcomes if you stayed in this lifestyle – death or prison.” According to a recent CDC report, gun violence is the leading cause of youth deaths, and according to a recent JAMA Pediatrics report, 62% of those youth deaths occur in poor counties.
At 18, she left home with her baby because she felt she was not getting the love she needed from her family. It would be a rough few years, being homeless and sleeping on a different couch every few days. She sometimes used her welfare check to pay for a hotel room for herself and her young daughter. When she was incarcerated for theft, she felt she had hit rock bottom. In prison, she struggled to find answers and turned to the Bible and prayers to help her find her way. After being in jail for 85 days awaiting her prison sentence, she felt her prayers had been answered when the judge decided to release her. Seeing this as a chance for change, she gathered her courage and moved across the country with her child to Atlanta, away from her family and the gangs.
Although she had made a drastic change, many challenges awaited her. Samira paid a 2 month deposit to rent a small apartment, got a job and put her daughter, Majee, in school. Unfortunately, soon after, she received some bad news. Her 10-year-old daughter’s uncle, to whom her child was very close, was murdered. It was a domino effect for her daughter. Not only did she lose her close uncle, but her father also withdrew from her life as he tried to cope with death. Majee, coping with moving, death and change, began to take action, and one day Samira received a terrible call from her friend, who told her that Mae, who was now 15, had tried to get away. commit suicide.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, and more than 15% of teenagers have seriously considered suicide. The Jed Foundation, whose vision is to prevent suicide and resilience among young people, has a proven holistic approach that includes social connections, such as community, crisis management and life skills development. Samira found some of those strengths in a church community in Roswell, GA.
Grieving, troubled and trying to cope with this alone, Samira reached for the lifeline she believed had gotten her through tough times before prayers and church. She found a church that had a wonderful pastor in a new part of town, who took the time and nurtured them with support and mentorship. “I needed community as a single mother. The pastor, after preaching, took time to talk to my daughter.
The church also gave them scholarships so Majee could attend the summer programming there. Majee started to change. Soon she not only returned to school, but joined the cheerleaders and got a job at a restaurant. Majee was incredibly grateful to her mother and the church, saying, “I love the church; they are the true representation of family for me.
Samira now gets involved to help others find courage and support. She preaches at different correctional facilities across Georgia and is the prison ministry leader for her church, World Harvest Church. She hopes to have her own non-profit organization in the future to help those released from prison and their families. When asked what advice she would give to people in difficulty, she passionately said, “Trust God with all your heart…he will be with you…and stay encouraged.
She added, “I would also say those three things. Don’t abandon your child; love your children. Also, be the change you want to see in your child. And finally, find a village to support you. It takes everyone.
The “Hiding in Plain Sight” Blog is a series leading up to the upcoming 2022 documentary Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, produced and directed by Ewers Brothers Productions, executive produced by Ken Burns and presented by WETA, PBS’ flagship station in the Nation’s Capital, premiering June 27-28 at 9/8c prime time on PBS stations nationwide.
You’re not alone. If you or someone you know is in crisis, whether or not they are considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Lifeline toll-free at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can also send an SMS. Crisis Text Line offers free mental health support. Text “10-18” or “SCRUBS” to 741741 for assistance. Call and SMS lines are open 24 hours a day.