Nigel Shelby, the 15-year-old who died by suicide in Alabama after allegedly being bullied for living his truth, was taken from us too soon. Nigel will never know love, heartbreak, or one day meet his chosen family who would affirm him and make him feel like he had a place in this world.
Nigel’s death rocked many in the LGBTQ+ community to our core because we remember being in his shoes. We recall the fear and discomfort we felt walking the halls of our respective schools. We remember the taunting, emotional and physical bullying. The verbal abuse that many of us endured still haunts us to this day. And for what? For being who we were called to be? For living our truths and being unapologetically ourselves?
During a press conference held by the National Black Justice Coalition, Nigel’s mother, Camika Shelby, says a staff member approached her and shared that Nigel came to her office and expressed that he was being bullied. Shelby says she had not previously mentioned these instances to her. “This particular staff member, I texted her a couple of times to ask how Nigel was doing in school because I knew he struggled with his identity,” says Shelby, who added, “she would always text me back saying that he was fine, but the day after he passed is when she told me about these visits.”
In a quest to find more answers, she asked the staff member in question if she could ask Nigel’s best friend for the password to his phone. While no one knew the password, his mother was made aware that Nigel had written a letter to her, which she found after frantically searching his bookbag. In it, Nigel made statements such as, “I try so hard to be normal,” and “Kids call me names and I try to act like it doesn’t bother me.” In the letter, Nigel hoped that the afterlife would not be so cruel to him.
A young child should never have to think of things like this.
“Somebody knew he was planning to do this,” cried Shelby. She reiterated that no one contacted her or made her aware that her child was being bullied. “When they contacted me about this, he was already gone,” said Shelby through her tears. “I feel like I lost my child because he was failed by a system that was supposed to protect him.”
David Johns, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, says that it’s easier for our youth to see police officers in schools rather than counselors who are there to help them. It’s time we do away with antiquated thought processes and stop weaponizing religion because it’s coming at a cost too high for our babies. Our children are crying for help and are being ignored because of ignorance. Nigel Shelby took his life because he didn’t feel like his space in this world mattered. If anything, we should continue to affirm LGBTQ+ youth; tell them that they matter and that they indeed have purpose on this earth.