In January of 1994, I was attending a Black Students Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was a glittering assemblage of young black people from all over the world coming to share thoughts and be brilliant together. I was honored to partake in that meeting of minds and excited at the prospect of meeting so many more amazing and interested young black people like me.
At the college of William and Mary – they gathered us in the auditorium at one point, for the “entertainment” of the evening. They had secured Phyllis Hyman… She emerged in a black and white outfit with a hat that looked much like a sombrero, decked out in dazzling gemstones and all the things that made her who she was. She sang beautifully. I sang along with her to the tunes that I knew and the crowd was truly welcoming and enjoyed her. We applauded her and she fought to make her way out of the auditorium as we swarmed her with attempts to get her on our cameras or a signature of hers on our pamphlets, napkins… whatever we had around. We were all mesmerized.
In June of 1995, she took her own life just before she was scheduled to appear on the Apollo Stage in NYC.
Various reports that came out around that time cited some kind of mental illness that propelled her displeasure in how younger stars were getting more airplay than she was and she’d been around. She didn’t think she was getting the kind of notoriety that she deserved. This sent her into deeper depression and she killed herself because of it. Her suicide note read “I’m tired, I’m tired… ”
That youthful version of me was so angry at her and even to this day, I retain some of that anger. HOW COULD SHE?? Have all that talent… actually make it at all… and then kill her self. What’s worse… how could she show me… that it didn’t matter what stage in life you were… it was alright to do something as losery as taking your own life because you just couldn’t handle it anymore. What of the strong black woman who could endure anything? What about the firm resolve to never let anything get the best of you? So it’s okay to let things get the best of you??? And then just… tap out when it’s too much???
How could she teach me that at such a young age? How could she show me it’s okay to ungracefully bow out just… whenever the pressure is on. Or lack there of.
That’s why I’ve been so angry with her. Because 19 years later she has me thinking… it might still be acceptable to do in any way fathomable. And I KNOW it isn’t.