The band wrapped around Solomon Thomas' left wrist provides a constant reminder. "Ella Elizabeth Thomas – Jan. 23, 2018," it reads. The name is his late older sister's. The date is when she took her own life. The band is purple – Ella's favorite color.
Talking about suicide is never easy. It's damn near impossible when it hits as close to home as it does with Thomas. And yet, the San Francisco 49ers second-year defensive lineman sat down with local reporters for 15 minutes on Wednesday to discuss losing his sister and the need to raise awareness for depression.
"It's such an important topic that people need to start talking about," Thomas said.
Thomas' eyes are wide open as to the importance of discussing mental health. He shared his favorite memories of Ella and added that the two were best friends. He also divulged how painful it was to lose her so suddenly. Thomas reiterated over and over how everyone is going through something. It's easy to put on a smile and tell people that "it's all good." It's far harder to recognize when things are anything but fine.
From a male perspective specifically, a man talking about his feelings contradicts what most men are taught in American culture.
"As a man, you're taught to keep (your emotions to yourself) – like everything is going to be OK," Thomas said. "'Be a man. Be strong. Be tough.' That's not how we need to live. If something is wrong, you need to seek help. You can have feelings as a man and acknowledge something is wrong. It's OK to cry. It's OK to be sad."
Jed York, John Lynch, Robbie Gould and a few other members of the 49ers organization attended Ella's funeral. Others sent cards, flowers and messages of love and support. The outpouring of love has helped Thomas through the impossible situation.
Now Thomas is ready to turn his pain into a purpose. This weekend, he'll return home to Texas and participate in an "Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk" to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Thomas said that he's organized a group of 10 friends and family members who have raised nearly $30,000 ahead of the walk. A few members of the 49ers player engagement department will be joining as well.
To support Thomas, please visit his official sponsorship page.
"I'm walking for my sister and everything that she struggled with and the things she went through – the things I did see and the things I didn't see," Thomas said. "And then I'm walking for all the people who suffer around the world."