Shenetta Malkia-Sapp was bullied throughout her childhood. She was thrown into a creek, teased about her hair and teased about her family. She eventually threatened to bring a knife to school to confront her tormentors, but was then asked to leave the school.
“No one ever got to the root of the problem of what made me react, and no one dealt with how I felt,” Malkia-Sapp said. “It was as if my feelings didn’t matter.”
As life continued, she pursued a career in modeling, she said she “was not content and felt empty.”
In her mid-twenties, Malkia-Sapp attempted suicide. She felt hopeless after her long-term relationship ended.
She still remembers what the police said to her that day.
“It was tough love. The cop said ‘do you really think that your life is over? Do you really think that ending it was worth it?’” Malkia-Sapp recalled. “She didn’t let me answer, she answered for me and said, ‘no, it’s not.’”
When she was 34, she started an organization, Empowerment Essence, to help people cope with being bullied and to prevent suicide.
Malkia-Sapp was named Ms. Maryland in 2014, and as part of that program, she had to choose a platform to focus on. Malkia-Sapp decided that, based on her past experiences, she wanted to concentrate on bullying and suicide prevention. She realized she had difficulty finding or hearing back from any such organizations, so she decided to start her own.
“It’s something that was given to me, something that was placed on my heart after my suicide attempt,” Malkia-Sapp said. “I can say today, so many individuals feel lost…(I want them to know) that there is hope, and no matter what individuals say about you, that doesn’t have to shape your future.”
Today, Empowerment Essence has about 25 active volunteers and offers numerous workshops, support groups for survivors of bullying and suicide and mentoring programs. The organization offers training in local schools on these topics, and also provide programs to help people who are bullies to change their behavior.
Malkia-Sapp said “any day we give someone hope, or keep one individual alive,” is rewarding for her.
Empowerment Essence directly reaches about 100-150 people per year and impacts as many as 13,000 people through raised awareness about bullying and suicide, Malkia-Sapp said.
“I want others to have what I felt I didn’t have and what wasn’t extended to me during my crisis.Not even just giving the love, but giving the assurance, the acceptance, the light that they need to be able to be productive in their work and their everyday life. We give them the hope back, she said.”
The National Suicide Hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK.
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Written by: Rachel Cain/The Sentinel Newspapers