The organizers of the annual Beacon of Hope Luncheon were amazed at the turnout for the Grant Halliburton Foundation fundraiser at the Omni Dallas Hotel on Tuesday, March 7. As one staffer said, looking at the crowded reception in the Dallas Ballroom lobby, “This is what 700 filled seats look like.”
But there were reasons for the sold-out event. There was the cause, resulting from youthful Grant Halliburton taking his own life.
And then there were the keynote speakers/advocates for mental health and suicide prevention — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and fellow NFL-er, New York Jets defensive tackle Solomon Thomas. Besides their NFL ties, they had both lost siblings to suicide, suffered from depression themselves, created foundations (Solomon’s The Defensive Line and Dak’s Faith Fight Finish) to help others and partnered up to help create the recently launched national suicide hotline 988.
While the crowd continued to grow outside the Dallas Ballroom, with DJ Lucy Wrubel setting the musical background and guests checking out the raffle items and picking up a refreshment at the champagne wall, VIP guests were directed to the foyer outside the Fair Park room. Inside, Solomon and his folks, Martha and Chris Thomas, were chatting with organizers as photographers set up for chats with the speakers.
Married 37 years, Martha and Chris had met in college when she was 18 and he was 19. In addition to raising Solomon and his big sister Ella Thomas, Martha and Chris each honed their talents professionally — Martha as an educator and Chris in corporate management of consumer goods and products. It was that latter role that had the family pulling up roots and moving around the world over the years.
Having settled back in North Texas, Martha and Chris recalled favorite past-times, when the kids had enjoyed things like Sandy Lake Amusement Park and a local pizza parlor.
Martha laughed as she told how one of the revelations had the family setting up house in Australia when 27-year-old Solomon was just a toddler. He ended up picking up the local accent to such a degree that when they moved back to the states —to Connecticut — five years later, they had to have Solomon work with a speech therapist because his teachers couldn’t understand him.
As the VIP-ers waited for the doors to open, Dak was ushered in and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of sports photographers/videographers and reporters like The Dallas Morning News’ Calvin Watkins, Fox 4’s Sam Gannon and the day’s emcee Steve Noviello, and the day’s moderator CBS 11 sports anchor Andy Adler.
With VIP-ers warned that there were to be no selfies, the setup had the two players in separate areas against the wall so that each VIP-er like Allen Halliburton got a separate shot with Dak and then Solomon. The exception being a group photo of Dak and Solomon with the Grant Halliburton’s Co-Founder/Executive Chairman Vanita Halliburton, President Kevin Hall and Event Senior Director Amy Halliburton McCloskey.
Right on schedule, the VIP reception was concluded and the VIP-ers joined the rest of the guests including Dr. Terry Flowers and Dee Velvin heading to the ballroom. It was interesting to note that the mix of guests was equally men and women, young and old.
In the meantime, Dak and Solomon privately met with a group of school kids for a conversation.
At 11:40 the program started with a slideshow and video on the foundation’s namesake Grant Halliburton followed by Steve, an invocation and then Foundation President Kevin Hall, who told the crowd that the gathering was the largest in Grant Halliburton’s history. Since its beginning in 2006 with just one staffer, the Foundation had grown to having a staff of 20.
In addition to telling the group that mental health challenges don’t discriminate and “the mental health crisis continues to grow,” he reported that the Foundation had reached more than 300,000 students and adults with mental health education, its Thrive program had doubled the number of schools and it had provided a navigation hotline to locate mental health providers since 2018.
He also revealed that in the weeks ahead, a Spanish website would be launched.
Just before noon Grant’s mother Vanita Halliburton recalled how her son had “loved people and people loved him.” Over the years he had battled depression and was eventually diagnosed at the age of 14 with both depression and being bipolar. In November 2005, at the age of 19, he killed himself.
Minutes later Andy took her place on stage and was joined by Dak and Solomon, who described the losses of their sibling — Dak’s older brother Jace Prescott in 2020, and Ella Thomas in 2018. Both speakers admitted that the deaths had resulted in their own need for mental health assistance.
For Solomon, it was learning that he could be sad and still have a good day. But he admitted that, “It’s a journey to get here. .. You need to understand your emotions and honor them.”
Each discussed the means (meditation, breathing exercises, etc.) and resources (family, friends and mental health experts) for their pathway to overcoming the challenges.
Due to the stigma associated with mental health, Dak and Solomon were using their platform as professional athletes to let others know that, “It’s okay not to be okay.”
Dak recalled that as the pandemic got underway, he found himself being depressed. Two weeks before his brother’s death, he told Jace about his depression. Jace’s comeback was, “That’s normal for me.” In hindsight, Dak now realizes that Jace’s response was a sign that he needed of help.
Solomon voiced the concern of the day saying, “Mental health is a huge epidemic. Ten-year-olds are actually committing suicide.”
Dak talked about his “blocking out,” saying he doesn’t “allow outside noises,” adding, “Don’t allow other opinions to affect you.”
Andy asked each what their message was.
Solomon said, “I miss my sister every day, but I have hope because we’re trying to end the stigma. We’ve got to continue the conversation with others.”
Dak’s answer was, “We’re all a part of a family that no one wants to be a part of. We have an obligation to be there for others.”
At this point in the program, three youngsters— Kevin Cervantes, Chloe Moore and Nicholas Butler — were brought on stage to join the conversation, posing questions like the following to the two athletes:
“What do you do if you think a friend is in trouble?”
- Dak: “Go to them as a friend. Maybe they just want to talk about it.”
- Solomon: “Tell them ‘I’m here for you.’”
“How do you put a pause on it?”
- Dak: “Play video games, listen to music, meditate.”
- Solomon: “Whatever takes you out of your stress.”
Then Andy asked all the panelists, “What gives you hope?”
Kevin: “Just seeing people push through and fight. My parents, who are immigrants, kept their faith and continued to push forward.”
Chloe: “I’ve been trying to focus on the littler things. I’ve been very tunnel vision recently on what I want for the future. That’s created a lot of stress and comes with a lot of ‘go, go, go, go.’ But I think being able to look at the little lights on the way, instead of just the light of the tunnel, that seems so everlasting.”
Nicholas: “I enjoy waking up and thinking I can help somebody.”
Solomon: “Events like today.”
Dak: “My faith on how far we’ve come. Programs that are taking place in the schools.”
Andy then answered her own question, saying, “700 people who would show up, and superstars who are kind to give of their time to help others.”
To conclude the program, the Beacon Award was presented to Dak and Solomon by Kevin.