Like I do most Mondays, I grabbed my morning herbal tea and sat down at my laptop to begin sifting through emails from the weekend, as my iPhone buzzed with a picture attachment and text message beaming. I picked up my phone, and within seconds my heart sank as I read the news from a fellow mental-health advocate that Titi Branch, the co-founder of Miss Jessie's natural hair products, died by suicide. (Please note that it is most appropriate to use the terminology "died by suicide" as opposed to "committed suicide"; Terrie Williams, author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting, further discusses the implications and differences between the two phrases here.)
I fondly knew Titi as one half of the sister duo that was at the forefront of the black natural hair movement. With her beautiful, curly, blonde 'fro, Titi and her sister Miko encouraged women to embrace their natural beauty, kinks and curls and all.
Traveling back a little bit, the Branch sisters grew up in Queens, New York, born to an African-American father and Japanese mother. Following her graduation from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in consumer economics and starting her own public relations firm, Icon Creative Artists, Titi joined her sister, a freelance hairstylist, to open their own hair salon, Curve Salon. Curve Salon quickly gained a reputation as the "go-to" salon for healthy and natural hair care. They began to cook up hair care products geared toward curly and natural hair, testing the majority of products on their clientele, and in 2004 the Branch sisters unveiled their first market hair product line geared toward natural curly hair, naming their now multimillion-dollar corporation after their grandmother, Jessie Branch. Their innovative products have continued to gain more and more traction over the years and are now sold in many large retail chains such as Walmart and CVS. The sisters also have their first book set for release in April 2015, Miss Jessie's: Creating a Successful Business from Scratch -- Naturally.
Despite all the accolades and success, Titi Branch sadly ended her own life on Dec. 4. Branch's obituary was published on NV magazine's Facebook page this Sunday, Dec. 14.
As the facts emerge surrounding Titi's passing, I hope that all, especially the black community, are moved to take action to significantly increase awareness and education surrounding mental health, illness and wellness so that we do not have to continue to mourn the passing of so many of our dynamic and extraordinary souls such as Titi Branch, Karyn Washington and Simone Battles (just to name a few most recently). By opening up the dialogue, more individuals will feel comfortable, supported and willing to seek assistance when necessary, in addition to their family and friends feeling more at ease to assist their loved one experiencing mental health difficulties.
I am deeply saddened by the passing of Titi but truly hope her passing and legacy will ignite a dull flame to birth into a full-on mental health awareness forest fire!
I end this post in the spirit in which my friend who informed me of Titi Branch's passing reached out to me; it was extremely saddening to hear that another young, vibrant black woman had taken her own life. The work that is being done by so many mental health advocates, organizations and professionals for so many in regards to mental health education and awareness, especially organizations such as Black Girls Smile, are so necessary to this movement. We all have our piece of the puzzle that we need to stay committed to tackling so that texts and news such as that heard this week do not continue. Titi, her legacy and Miss Jessie's continue to work on their piece to the puzzle by encouraging all women to embrace their most natural and authentic self. Now we must all join then in tackling our own pieces.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.