My friend, Deven Black, was murdered in a homeless shelter in NYC on Wednesday night.
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly when I first met Deven, though I am 99% sure that we started talking over Twitter and met face to face at Educon. I never knew that Deven suffered from mental health issues. I know that he was a kind and generous man. That he loved teaching and that his own education experiences inspired him to speak out about what’s best for kids. He shared his thoughts and ideas on his blog, http://educationontheplate.com. He was an active member of the teaching community online and pushed our thinking greatly. He won a Bammy Award for the amazing work he did transforming his school’s library and he was always learning and growing as an educator. He also had a fondness for a good beer.
I scrolled through his Facebook wall looking for clues and was saddened to see a number of posts which, in hind sight, seemed like more than your typical “having a tough day” social media posts. There were a number of well-meaning messages from many of his friends (including myself), but rarely did anyone ask “do you need anything?” or “how can we help?”
I can’t shake this feeling that we, the collective teaching community, failed. We let a friend slip through the cracks. We watched a man suffer and offered him a pat on the back instead of asking him what he needed. We posted kind words to a social media profile and assumed that was enough. According to his son, Jonas, Deven was not able to receive the help he needed to treat his mental illness. He wrote this on Facebook:
As some of you may have heard, my father, Deven Black, was killed last night at the homeless shelter where he was staying. Although he had struggled with mental illness for many years, he was unable to get the treatment he needed, and he fell through the cracks of a severely broken system.
It is hard not to hate the man who took my father away from me, but ultimately I see my father’s killer as another victim. Had there been adequate mental health infrastructure in place, this tragedy would not have happened.
Now, more than ever, is the time to have a conversation devoid of political ideology about mental healthcare in this country. We are in the midst of a public health crisis that affects everyone.
If you want to honor my father’s memory, please talk about this. Tell your friends, your family, and your legislators. Only by eliminating stigma and improving access to mental health services will we be able to prevent senseless losses like this.
Deven’s life was shaken up by his loss of his teaching job and by a fall he took down a flight of stairs that broke his neck. He shared his experiences of his surgery and recovery on social media. I hadn’t seen or heard from Deven in a while, and was completely heartbroken and devastated to learn of his death. I can’t believe that someone so loved fell through the cracks. It reminds me to go beyond thinking that posting to social media is enough. Somehow, we have let social media weaken the ties that we have with each other while also allowing us to maintain strong ties with each other. We know each other through posts and photos, but how many of us take the time to check in on each other, to go further than the 10 seconds it takes to post something online? We can’t let loved ones slip through the cracks of a broken system or slip through our arms because we are “too busy” to take the time to really find out how someone is doing.
Rest in peace, Deven. You will be missed.