Black Teens and Suicide: For the Love of Siwe

Bassey Ikpi, The Root | July 13, 2011

Siwe Monsanto was a girl after my own heart — talkative, intelligent, funny. Even at age 4, she had the enthusiasm, confidence and spark that all girls are born with but lose somewhere between diapers and dorm rooms. I met her; her brother, Sule; and her mother, Dionne, within months of my moving to New York City.

Nervous and far from home, I fell easily into Dionne’s open-armed offer to spend time with her family in Harlem. Our friendship grew steadily, easily. Dionne was my adopted big sister, and Siwe, well, she was my little friend. My girl.

As time went on and I began to wear New York as my own city, I moved to Brooklyn. Harlem felt like another time zone. Between distance and being a touring member of the Def Poetry Jam cast, I saw Dionne and Siwe and Sule less and less, but email and the occasional phone call kept us connected. Unfortunately, honest conversation — the kind that goes deeper than “Sule got an A in math” or “Siwe grew an inch, with her pretty self” — was much more likely when Dionne and I could physically connect.

One day, during a break in the tour, I met Dionne for lunch. We spent time catching up, but the conversation shifted when I told her about my recent bipolar II diagnosis. Dionne exhaled softly as she listened and was filled with questions and concern. She asked about treatment and the stress of the tour. She wondered if I needed to come by the house and stay with her and the babies. My pride and foolishness had me shaking my head no before the words left her mouth.

After a pause in the conversation, Dionne looked up and said four words that, to this day, are seared on my brain: “I’m worried about Siwe.” (Read more)