16 Feb 2024

SAU Hosts AFSP Panel & Faculty/Staff Training as Black History Month Mental Health Event

One of The Triangle’s historically black colleges/universities (HBCUs) is taking an essential step in addressing its campus’ and surrounding communities’ needs. Saint Augustine’s University (SAU) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) are joining forces to host a special event in honor of Black History Month, focusing on mental health awareness and suicide prevention in the Black community.

The event will feature a panel discussion on “Suicide Prevention in the Black Community,” which aims to address the increasing rates of suicide among Black Americans and the unique mental health challenges they face, and protective factors. The panel occurs on Tuesday, February 20th, from 11 a.m. to noon at the university campus’ Seby Jones Fine Arts Center Auditorium. The event is open to the public and will be live-streamed on SAU’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

According to the CDC, the Black population in the U.S. has experienced an 18.8% increase in age-adjusted suicide rates from 2018 to 2021, with a 39.1% increase among Black persons aged 15-29. Despite these alarming statistics, there continues to be a stigma around discussing suicide in the Black community and recognizing it as a public health issue.

“We are deeply committed to addressing the mental health challenges faced by the Black community, and this event is a significant step in raising awareness and promoting open dialogue around suicide prevention,” said SAU Interim President Dr. Marcus H. Burgess. “By joining forces with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and esteemed panelists, we aim to empower our community to take proactive measures in tackling this critical issue.”

AFSP Vice President for Health Equity and Engagement Vic Armstrong, MSW, will moderate the panel. Joining the discussion are Board Chair of the AFSP NC Chapter Keon Lewis; Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work, UNC Charlotte, and Director of the Race and Social Equity Academy Dr. Sonyia Richardson; and SAU Student Mister Saint Augustine’s University Louis Keenan Lowndes.

“Eradicating stigma and reducing the rate of suicide in the Black community can only occur if we are willing to acknowledge the issue and have open, honest dialogue,” said AFSP’s VP of Health Equity Vic Armstrong. “We know that creating programs for and by the Black community is key to engaging in these conversations, and we are thrilled to have launched an educational program to deepen awareness of suicide and understanding of how to support those who are struggling called L.E.T.S. (Listening, Empathy, Trust, Support) Save Lives: An Introduction to Suicide Prevention for the Black and African American Community.

The event will also include a faculty/staff training session led by AFSP’s Vic Armstrong to equip educators with the knowledge and tools to support mental health within the university community with a L.E.T.S. Save Lives presentation.

Saint Augustine’s University invites the broader community to join in this critical conversation and contribute to the collective effort of suicide prevention in the Black community. Beyond attending the panel, they can sign up for a L.E.T.S. Save Lives presentation through the local AFSP North Carolina chapter by clicking here.


The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide, including those who have experienced a loss. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through public education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, with a public policy office in Washington, DC, AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico, with programs and events nationwide. Learn more about AFSP in its latest Annual Report and join the conversation on suicide prevention by following AFSP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.