OPINION: Remembering Corey Nicholson

By Patrick White, brother of Corey Nicholson

“I have to get this thorn out of my side,” my elderly grandmother said once. She was referring to the death of her grandson 15-year-old Corey Nicholson.

Without a doubt, death isn’t a new story amongst residents of South Los Angeles. It’s constantly accepted. But from that point, I knew it was a call to action. All I could think was there has to be a better way.

After Corey’s death, there were no visits from detectives or responses from police. The services were carried on without question.

I could not look at my mother. My mother lost her one-bedroom apartment after 16 years, and subsequently was unable to properly care for her son. The youngest of six, he was placed under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles children’s welfare system.

Struggling to overcome her own personal battles with drug addiction and various levels of abuse, she went to the only safe place she knew. She had to rent out a room in her mother’s apartment. A few months later, the entire family was struck with the news: Corey was found dead on the steps of an apartment complex on Vermont Ave. and 83rd Street in South Los Angeles.

According to the autopsy, his death was due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The bullet went straight through. He died at 2 a.m. The events leading up to his death have yet to be formally disclosed to his family.

If you ask any one of his siblings who Corey was, you would be bombarded with an array of answers. He was funny, big-hearted, bright-eyed, and intelligent…anything and everything a kid is supposed to be. He was also saddened, hardened and put off by what he had to endure to just fit in and to search for what so many people in their adult lives struggle to find: love.

I probably will never understand the impact his death had on my grandmother. The strongest member of the family, Gramma, pronounced “Gruam-ma,” was not only the backbone of this family, but the spirit as well. “Go to school, boy,” she often encouraged us to do. A woman of few words, Gramma’s lack of knowledge of our legal system was taken advantage of.

Labeled with the typical “…well, it-is-what-it-is” of the black community, some overlooked Corey’s death as a “minor tragedy.” But it has become clear that the process of healing is difficult, lengthy and different for everyone.

After finding out that Corey Nicholson had passed away, it was discovered that hidden cameras were placed in the family’s residence. Onlookers watched what was supposed to be a time of healing for my family, and our grief became a commodity. When the landlord was notified of the hidden cameras, he said that if that were true, he would remove them. On a latter occasion, the landlord retracted on his statement, indirectly acknowledging that hidden cameras were in fact in the resident’s home, who had occupied the space for approximately 25 years.

Looking at the autopsy report, the family had no choice but to accept what fate had dealt. But that was and will not be a part of our closure.

Closure came in my decision to fight, not only for Corey, but for everything I had been chosen to believe in and what this land is undeniably built on: a relentless pursuit of defining moments and the intangible notion of endless possibilities.

Project L.A. South, an organization that was started in 2010, is designed to help combat some of the very elements which were direct causes of Corey’s death. It launches campaigns such as the Breakfast program, Canvas L.A, Adopt-A-block, I Am L.A., and other initiatives.

Sharing one of their “Defining Moments,” celebrities and Hollywood stars such as Oprah, Celebrity Hair stylist Ken Paves, Radio Host Big Boy, Ricky Martin, Beverly Johnson, and others have already supported the efforts.

After more than three years, the family plans to move forward, first by having a benefit for Project: L.A. South. Through the benefit, the family hopes to find healing and a sense of closure while still reaching out. It is their hopes that the benefit will help build a foundation in South Los Angeles in the memory of Corey.

A son’s suicide, a mother’s pain

By Wanda Jackson

imageI know that no matter how much I speak about Kevin, it will never bring my son back. I know, because I’ve tried. And neither will a million tears. I know, because that’s how much I’ve cried. I also know that by sharing my story I can’t help Kevin, but I can help others to live.

I realize that my son had to have been in the deepest kind of pain to end his precious life. I still hurt and feel this tremendous pain tugging at the core of my soul when I think about how, in the last moments of Kevin’s life when he walked into my garage for the last time, he must have felt so all alone.

When he came home that night he seemed sad. He said he had been fighting with his girlfriend all weekend and he was tired. He told me that he was in pain. I asked my husband to talk to him and give him words of encouragement. After that, I really felt my son was going to be okay.

But now I know that Kevin was chemically depressed; he was not mentally well. He was not crazy, or psychotic. He had a chemical imbalance in his brain, and he should have had medical attention.

There wasn’t one particular situation that caused Kevin’s depression, but I know that it had a lot to do with this girl he was dating. My son was in an abusive relationship. I told him that he needed to leave her alone because she was causing him too much pain. He was also frustrated that he could not find a job. We told Kevin that it takes time because a lot of people were out of a job.

Kevin’s car was not working and he came and asked me if I could take him somewhere the next morning. That morning, it was approximately an hour after I heard him go down stairs that I went into the garage.

I could not believe my eyes when I looked up and saw his handsome face limp. He was hanging from one of the wooden beams. It was so surreal. I screamed and screamed, “No Kevin, Kevin, no, no. Why? Why? Oh God, please don’t let him be dead,” I begged. I ran and got a knife, and I cut my son down. I administered CPR, but I knew he was probably dead. After calling for help, I held him in my arms crying and begging God to let him live, but honestly, I knew he was dead.

I learned later that it takes approximately three minutes for someone to die from hanging themselves. Even now, it’s hard to believe that my son, my precious son is gone forever. He was 30 years old.

Life would have gotten better for Kevin. The day after he died, someone called him for a job interview.

Before I found my son dead on August 26, 2008, before Kevin’s life started spiraling downward, he loved life. His passion for life was enormous; his love for his family, and the love he had for his daughter and son was huge. He was like a kid himself when playing with his children. He was a beautiful person inside and out, and to know him was to love him. Kevin was handsome; he was smart, intelligent and wise. He was funny and fun to be around. I will never forget his huge, warm quirky smile that always seemed to warm my heart. I will forever miss his spirit, his beam of light that shined so brightly in our lives.

I thank God that I have my two beautiful grandchildren, one who is 12 and the other who is eight years old, whom I am now raising. They both remind me so much of my son. Every beat of their precious hearts is another reminder that Kevin lived and loved until the end. He told me the night before he died how much he loved us and how thankful he was that we were raising his children. I told him that we loved him too, but I never thought that he was saying goodbye. Because if I knew that he was saying good bye I would have held him in my arms and explained to him how much he was loved and would be missed if he left. I would have never let him go until I knew that he was going to be okay. I would have done everything to make sure that Kevin had gotten the proper medical attention he needed, but I didn’t know.

That is why I am writing this today: to let you know that there is help and that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

The same day that Kevin died I remember I just kept saying “I have to help other people.” I remember telling my sister: “I have to spread awareness about suicide so other families don’t have to go through what we are going through.” So I started Kevin’s Cause. If I had known the signs, perhaps I could have helped Kevin. I am going to do everything I can to spread awareness so that people will understand the warning signs and know that there is nothing wrong with reaching out to others if they are feeling depressed or suicidal. People do get better if they receive the proper medical attention. Depression doesn’t have to lead to suicide.

The organization is still in its early stages. We’re developing a marketing plan. We want to engage and influence the community by raising awareness that suicide is a serious problem in our community, state and nation. We want to develop suicide prevention strategies. We want to facilitate training that will teach warning signs and the risk factors for suicide. We also want to speak at churches. Our goal is to diffuse the social stigma that has for many years been attached to depression and suicide, especially in the minority communities where the suicide rate is growing.

We would like to change the phrase “commit suicide.” It is a term that needs to be expunged completely. It is inaccurate, it is insensitive, and it strongly contributes to the horrible stigma that is still associated with suicide. We prefer to say “die by suicide.” So help get the word out: Criminals commit crimes. Suicide is not a crime. So please STOP SAYING that anyone “committed suicide.”

Kevin was loved and nurtured growing up. He went to private school, played and excelled in basketball at St. Albert’s Elementary School in Compton, and Serra High School in Gardena. He grew up in a house with both parents, a loving and caring sister, and a host of family and friends who truly loved him. Kevin had so much to live for, but yet, the way he died painted a completely different picture.

If love could have kept him alive, Kevin would still be here today.

A motto he would say often is “recess is over.” And that saying meant to him that it was time to get serious. I will adopt this slogan and use it to spread awareness. Yes, recess is over and I want everyone to get serious about educating themselves regarding depression and suicide and help spread the word so that we can stop this terrible tragedy.

Again, untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

– Appearing depressed or sad most of the time.
– Talking or writing about death or suicide.
– Withdrawing from family and friends.
– Abusing drugs or alcohol.
– Exhibiting a change in personality.

People at risk of suicide often feel hopeless. They feel strong anger or rage. They feel trapped — like there is no way out of a situation.

There are many other signs to look out for. Awareness is the Key to Saving Lives, so please, together, let’s start saving. The Suicide hotline for L.A. County is: (310) 391-1253 / Spanish: 1-800-273-8255

If anyone would like to donate to Kevin’s Cause suicide prevention and awareness, nonprofit organization. Please contact:

Wanda Jackson, (310) 310-4790 or Shaunda Hill, (562) 206-5243

Employer Identification Number: 27-1999224