Dakota Black calls the new life he found at Santa Monica College “a fluke within a fluke.”
After witnessing the suicide of his brother and losing two uncles to suicide, Black became what he calls “a very, very angry man” and ended up in prison for four years on a felony. After getting out of prison, he became a commercial diver.
“My plan was to hide in the ocean,” says Black, a member of the Blackfeet tribe. With encouragement from friends – he is a self-confessed ‘goofball’ – he made a foray into standup comedy. Being a stand-up comic would become a healing process and also showed him he could “function” in society. Black has also appeared as a character actor in TV shows like C.S.I., Drunk History and Justified and films including Low Down with Elle Fanning and Glenn Close.
Black decided to come to SMC to take a few classes – because he was $1,000 short of a helicopter pilot’s license, and he planned on setting aside some of his financial aid money for the license: the first fluke. He enrolled in a Psychology 1 class with Laura Guild because it fit into his schedule: the second fluke.
“Professor Guild opened my eyes and made me realize that I can make a difference,” says Black. He decided to major in psychology and help those dealing with suicide or suicidal thoughts.
“Look at me!” laughs Black. “I was freshly out of prison a few years back, and here I am doing the right thing.” Today he works on the suicide hotline and volunteers with several suicide prevention organizations. He is graduating from SMC with an associate degree in liberal arts: social and behavioral sciences and is transferring to California State University, Fullerton – his top choice – where he will major in psychology. Future plans include a Doctor of Psychology degree.
“Passion just takes over,” says Black, describing what it felt like to find his life’s path at SMC, where he was also a part of the EOPS/CARE program. While he has not found an exact vocation – teaching or counseling are at the top of the list – Black knows that he wants to make a difference: save lives, and let people know they matter.
Shortly after he went through suicide intervention training, Black was on his way to a music class at the College when he saw a girl crying. He thought he would just go on to his class, but a voice in his head told him: You might be her last chance. That evening, he talked that girl out of suicide, and when he saw her a few weeks later with a group of friends, laughing, he said to himself: I saved a life.
Black’s heritage is extremely important to him – he volunteers on Native American reservations in several states and is part of a team working on a documentary about suicide on reservations. He is a proud father to his 10-year-old daughter, Jada. “She gave me roots,” he says.
“When they’re standing over my casket, I want them to say, ‘He made a difference’ – really, in any community that deals with suicide, but especially within my own,” says Black. “I just want to make a positive difference.”