The names, etched in black marker across the backs of hundreds of blue T-shirts, flooded the steps of the Art Museum at dusk Saturday night.
“I’ll Be Up All Night For Oliver,” one read. “I’ll Be Up All Night For Daddy,” read another. For Chris. For Mom. For Jeff. For Bev G.
“I’ll Be Up All Night,” another shirt read, “for All Who Suffer In Silence.”
For hours leading up to sunset Saturday, individuals arriving solo and in groups climbed one of Philadelphia’s most famous landmarks — and rested. After all, many said, they would need their strength to walk 16.7 miles across Philadelphia over the next nine hours.
Still, others said they had been searching for strength for much longer than Saturday. After losing kids, spouses, parents, and friends to suicide over the years, many of the estimated 1,700 who showed up from all corners of the country came to heal, grieve, and celebrate the lives of those they lost.
Since 2005, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has been organizing its Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in cities across the country, to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention. This year, walks are taking place in Dallas and Philadelphia.
Participants can walk individually, or as part of a team. Malinda Fritz, a 48-year-old high school teacher from the Long Beach Township area of New Jersey, walked in honor of her 19-year-old son, who she said has survived suicide attempts in the past. Fritz said she was sitting under a tree in front of the Art Museum Saturday, when 41-year-old Gabby Arroyo, a teacher from the Bronx New York, asked if they could walk together.
Both women consider themselves luckier than most, they said. While each has a son who has expressed suicidal thoughts in the past, both get to hug their sons every night. Still, Arroyo said, “it’s a fear that will be there forever.”
As the event kicked off Saturday at 7:30 p.m., AFSP volunteers led the crowd in stretches, and honored many longtime participants of the Overnight Walk onstage.
“I think it’s important to not be silent about what suicide is doing to the people we love, and that’s why I’m here,” said Gideon Glick, a stage performer and actor best known for his role in Spring Awakening. He helped kick off the event before participants departed at 8 p.m.
The overnight walks are AFSP’s major fund-raiser, and participants must raise a minimum of $1,000 from pledges to take part. Last year, the two walks raised a combined $1.5 million, money that goes toward developing education programs, advocating for state and federal policies to prevent suicide, and providing support and guidance for survivors.
After departing the Art Museum steps, participants are expected to complete the walk — journeying to the Delaware River and into University City — by 5 a.m. and return to their starting point. When they arrive in the morning, they will find 1,700 white paper bags, decorated with memories and images of their loved ones, lit up by candles, quietly illuminating the finish line.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.