Finding the Light Within

artist James Burns

Finding the Light Within by James Burns. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Mural dedication. Photo by Steve Weinik.

I am in awe of the strength and courage of these folks to come out and bring this serious issue into the public eye. It is obviously not an easy thing to talk about and I am thankful to know that there are so many people who are willing to come out and get involved in the awareness effort and even more so to know that there is such a wonderful network of people who are regularly working and dealing with this type of trauma.

- James Burns, artist

About the Project 

The rate of suicide attempts among public high school students in Philadelphia is almost twice the national average – 12.9 percent versus 6.9 percent, respectively. Particularly troubling is the rate of suicide attempts among African American youth (12.1 percent) which is up to twice that of comparable cities, such as New York (6.5 percent), Baltimore (7.8 percent) or Detroit (9.9 percent), according to a 2009 study by Temple University’s College of Health Professions and Social Work.

Mural Arts has partnered with the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to combat this tragic social phenomenon.

Artist James Burns speaks at the mural's dedication. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Finding the Light Within sheds a light on youth suicide by providing a voice for survivors, attempters, and their families and friends by creating a new community around this issue. Through this project, we hope to educate the public about warning signs of suicidal behavior and how to seek help for loved ones before there is a loss of life.

To create the foundation for the mural project, a series of community meetings and two distinct workshop series to engage a broad range of participants were held. Poet/artist Theodore Harris and psychologist Dr. Terri Erbacher facilitated writing and collage-making workshops at Horizon House (a community resource for adults with psychiatric or developmental disabilities, drug and alcohol addictions, and/or homelessness), which helped start a dialogue amongst participating survivors and attempters of suicide.

Additionally, storytelling workshops for people whose lives have been changed by suicide were directed by Dr. Molly Layton, a writer and psychotherapist who works with First Person Arts.

Through Finding the Light Within a new and diverse community has been created to share awareness and resources for intervention around the issue of suicide in Philadelphia.

Finding the Light Within website