Friend Of Black Activist Explains Reasons Behind His Suicide

The interview on the death of activist MarShawn McCarrel with his close friend, Dante Barry

Being the director of @MillionHoodies, a Black racial justice membership organization, Dante Barry is one of those people who lead the Black community and help us to change our lives for better. Yet, activism is a two-side coin. There are times when a person feels empty and lets his demons win. This is what happened to MarShawn McCarrel, an activist and a friend of Dante Barry. On February 8, 2016, MarShawn took his own life in front of Ohio’s Statehouse. This suicide shocked everyone. Today we will raise uneasy questions on this unfortunate death and activism in general.
Good afternoon, Dante! We are aware that you were close to MarShawn McCarrel, the activist who committed suicide in front of Ohio Statehouse. Can you tell us a little about his work as an activist? When and why did he join the Black Lives Matter movement?
Dante Barry
I want to make it clear from the very beginning: MarShawn was not a BLM activist. He was an organizer with the organization of the Ohio Students Association. He had been a part of the movement for the civil rights before the BLM movement emerged. With the Ohio Students Association, they had been organizing events for racial justice before Black Lives Matter took off.
What do you remember when you think of Marshawn? What was he like?
Dante Barry
Being a leader of the Ohio Student Organization, MarShawn was doing an amazing work. He started his own couple of organizations. He always believed in giving back to, in serving those really poor level communities. We often talked about it. And I always will remember that. I deeply miss him and all those moments when we have shared our thoughts. We were prior to organizing FreedomSide. We came together after the 50th anniversary of March on Washington in 2013 to think about building a powerful majority of the black and brown community, of working class folks who would be forming the new American majority by 2042. We were organizing and that’s how we’ve met in 2013. We were able to spend a good time with each other. He was a little bit younger than me but I’ve been able to learn so much from our work together and him especially.
He sounds like a young person full of life… Did he tell you that he was tired or stressed by any chance?
Dante Barry
I don’t want to get into the reasons why he did what he did. He was obviously stressed just like every black person. We all can see that the conditions of our life are so bad. It shouldn’t be a surprise that folks are not so confident of themselves. Basically, we are being told that we’re not worthy by the society. When I think about MarShawn I think about how extreme the conditions are. It was actually a sign to us all, about how we should take care of our people, take care of our community in conditions that are so bad.
Do you think he was disappointed in what he did as an activist and organizer? Or was he rather proud of his work?
Dante Barry
I think he was definitely proud. He was supported in organizing what he did and he was loved. I think you could see that in the response to his suicide. Look at the statements from Ohio Student Association and FreedomSide and other folks. A lot of his friends and lot of people he worked with went to his home to pay tribute. There were a lot of media around his suicide. Erykah Badu did a powerful statement during the New York fashion week using MarShawn’s last words. I think he definitely was proud and that wouldn’t be an issue about feeling loved in the community. There is a picture where all of us from FreedomSide were in North Carolina in 2014, hours before he committed suicide he wrote on this picture that he loved us all.
MarShawn’s family said that “activism injured his soul.” Being on the same road, do you feel the same?
Dante Barry
Organizing is about changing the conditions of people’s lives. We are in the state when we see black people getting killed every day in social media, on TV. We see black folks not having a house and being homeless. We see normal working conditions being pushed away. We see climate changing that causes things like hurricane Katrina. Black folks are being attacked on every level. This is what injures our souls. Organizing is basically about the ability to change people’s lives completely. Usually, people who organize are those who mostly impacted by these issues. I don’t think it’s a question about whether or not to be active, it’s the question why we were put in this position in the first place. So in this particular case, the question goes back to how bad the conditions that we’re in are.
MarShawn’s last message to the world was: “My demons won today”. Do you understand what he meant?
Dante Barry
I think everyone has demons and often these demons are perpetuated through the system. The system tells us that we’re not human. And how we respond to that, how we feel about it is the very individual matter. Our dignity is on the line. I think every person has his own interpretation of these last words about demons.
MarShawn committed suicide in front of the Ohio Statehouse. It didn’t look like an accident, rather a planned event. Do you think it was a form of a protest, an action to provoke the government, to show them they are wrong?
Dante Barry
Yes, he knew what he was doing. It’s not a coincidence that he was in front of the statehouse if we think about what Statehouse represents to Black folks – a power that owns our lives. The state having control over how we live, who has safety, how we’re being prioritized, how we are getting kicked out of our homes, how we are getting kicked out of our communities. MarShawn was an organizer. He definitely had the intention to be there at the moment. Government represents the conditions we’re in. It definitely represents that the black folks’ lives are always on the line.
Do you think that someone may have given him the idea of making this a statement, a kind of protest?
Dante Barry
I don’t want to answer this question.

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