In January, Mohamed Elhindi and Carol Daul-Elhindi lost their 14-year-old son to suicide. Since then, they started “Solomon’s Song” to raise awareness about mental health and diversity within the community
by LAURA HAYES
One summer evening, the Elhindi family was on vacation in Door County Wisconsin. Solomon turned to his mother, Carol Daul-Elhindi, and said that he wanted to watch the sunset. “It was just him and me … and all of a sudden he said, ‘I’m sorry but we have to watch the sunset. It’s such a beautiful sunset and we need to take time and watch the sunset,” Carol said. “I miss him so much and I miss those moments.”
In January, Solomon passed away at the age of 14 from suicide. “He was kind and a good friend to everybody. If someone needed help, he was there,” Carol said. Every time that Solomon went to Wal-Mart, he would say good morning or good afternoon to the greeter by name. Carol remembered one time that he said good morning to a greeter and saw her face light up. “She absolutely lit up, and he said, ‘Did you see her reaction, Mom? I’m going to do that every time I come into Wal-Mart,” she recalled.
Solomon was an active kid — on student council, part of drama club, part of chess club, a filmmaker, writer, and an avid reader. An athlete, Solomon was involved in many sports including soccer and cross country. “I think he tried every sport,” his father Mohamed Elhindi joked.
His death motivated his parents to start “Solomon’s Song” — a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising mental health awareness, celebrating diversity, and promoting healthy minds and bodies. On October 1, community members will have another chance to join the effort, with a concert by folk singer-songwriter and storyteller John McCutcheon to be performed at Winona State.
Reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness is part of the work to which Carol and Mohamed have dedicated themselves. Carol said that while schools provide mental health fairs for students to learn about mental illness, because of the stigma, students almost felt as if they were “outing” themselves by participating, Carol said.
“When you look at mental health, it’s an area that people are not going to want to ask for help because they think that this might hurt my career, this might hurt me getting the job I want, this might hurt me in my daily life,” Mohamed said. “The important part is for people to understand. It’s not a character flaw. It’s a disease. It’s treatable. You have to get the right resources and you have to start early.”
“Early intervention is really key,” Carol added.
“That’s why we think it’s important to catch those kids early,” Mohamed said.
As part of Solomon’s Song, the Elhindis wanted to provide safe and fun events to raise awareness and help connect the community with resources, but they also want fun events in which their son would want to participate.
The first event was “Solomon’s Super Soaker Fun Fest” back in August — a fun run/walk/skip around West Lake Winona. Solomon’s friends and teammates were stationed around the lake, ready to blast runners with squirt guns as they ran by. At the finish line, there was a 34-foot slip and slide.
Carol said that the event was a blast. Around 700 people registered for the fun run. “The dunk tank was hilarious. We didn’t know if we would get enough people to sit in it, and we had more than we could accommodate to be in it,” she said. “The kids had so much fun. The smiles on their faces were wonderful.”
During the event, community members came up to the Elhindis, thanking them for taking on the mission. Therapists and counselors from Winona and La Crosse stood by for people to ask questions. Carol said that it was their intent to give the community access to mental health professionals in a relaxed setting.
“We want to normalize conversations about mental health,” Carol said. “If you can talk about cancer, if you can talk about diabetes, you should be able to talk about mental illness because it’s an illness. It’s not a character flaw. It’s not somebody being weak. It’s an illness. We need to reduce that stigma and get that understanding out there.”
As their second event, folk singer-songwriter and storyteller McCutcheon perform a concert at Winona State. This is not the first time that McCutcheon has performed in Winona. McCutheon’s sister, Patty, was the deaf services coordinator at Winona State University, where Carol works as a librarian and used to interpret for deaf students. He would frequently perform concerts that would be interpreted into American Sign Language (ASL).
Carol and Mohamed have been to several of his concerts, liking the stories that he would tell and the message behind his music (“How we can respect each other. How we can respect rights,” Mohamed explained). They reached out to McCutcheon and asked if he would perform as part of Solomon’s Song. “After started planning for the Super Soaker Fest, Mohamed got the idea and called. We’ve been planning this since we started the nonprofit,” Carol said.
“This concert is going to be great fun,” McCutcheon said, adding that it could be daunting to take on suicide prevention. “They’re doing it in such creative ways. The concert is going to be about getting the community together … There’s going to be a concert and it’s going to be great fun.”
During the concert, McCutcheon will play songs from his new album “Trolling for Dreams” which will be released next January.
Similarly, before the concert, there will a health fair featuring mental health professionals along with healthy living organizations sharing things such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, equine therapy, pet therapy, and music therapy. “We really want people to get an awareness of what kind of services are available right within our community,” Carol said. “Hopefully they’ll be able to connect with somebody if they’re struggling or if they know someone is struggling.”
Just last weekend, Carol and Mohamed’s daughter, Taycier, spoke about mental illness during the Jim Flim Invitational at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Taycier cited the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ statistic that one out of five children ages 13-18 will experience a severe mental disorder during their life. “‘Everybody thinks they’re alone. Everybody thinks they can’t talk to anybody,’” Mohamed recalled Taycier saying. “She said, ‘Let’s talk. Let’s talk to each other. You’re not alone.’ And I think that is the big message there.”
One of Solomon’s quotes was featured on the Jim Flim T-shirts: “Seize the cheese.” Mohamed explained that, for Solomon, “seize the cheese” meant when times are bad or rough, seize the moment and make it positive. “Every day Solomon had a mission,” Mohamed said. He added that every day Solomon would return home from school and tell his parents how he accomplished his mission.
“He was a kid with a big heart,” Carol said.
Next, Carol and Mohamed plan on bringing mental health training at local schools and colleges for Winona through Solomon’s Song. Additionally, they plan on holding an interfaith conversations between members of different religions to celebrate religious diversity and learn more about different religions.
The John McCutcheon concert will be held at Winona State University in Harriet Johnson Auditorium in Somsen Hall on October 1 from 7-9 p.m. The concert costs $20 for kids 17 and under or students with a university ID. General admission costs $25. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at http://solomonssong.brownpapertickets.com/. The health fair begins at 6 p.m.