September 10th is regarded around the globe as World Suicide Prevention Day. For our skate community in New Jersey Sunday, September 10th is Wilkie Day; our time to come together to celebrate the life of our dear friend and all around great human, Brendan Wilkie. We sat down with our brother, John Gardner, another great human, as well as an organizer of Wilkie Day, to discuss Brendan and mental health.
NJ: Sunday is Wilkie Day at Ann Van and it also coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day. What does this event and this day means to you personally?
John Gardner: World Suicide Prevention Day I feel is an important day for anyone who has dealt with suicidal ideation or has lost somebody to suicide. I think it's becoming more common now to talk about it and it's important to me because talking about it helps to heal the wounds of anyone who's lost somebody to suicide. So for me personally this day is a day where I can gather with my friends, celebrate the life of Brendan Wilkie, my dear friend, who took his own life. Anyone who knows him knows the person he was, is, always will be and so this day is really special not just for me, but for everybody because it's our chance to really get together, grieve together, celebrate his life together and hopefully help others who might be feeling the same thing and help them not feel so alone.
NJ: How did this celebration originally come to be?
JG:Yeah, we originally did the first Wilkie Day in 2021 and essentially I just wanted to try and create a day to celebrate our friend because he passed away during Covid and we were unable to meet and have a funeral and that affected everybody. A funeral can be an important moment of closure and none of his friends or his family were able to get that and I think this event helped to fill that void in a small way. We had other chances to celebrate his life but this date coincided with World Suicide Prevention Day and other mental health events that we were doing and so it came to be very naturally. I was trying to do something for Brendan and just through working with everybody and it all came together so with the blessing of Branden’s dad, mom and sister we all got together to celebrate Brendan’s life.
NJ: Mental health has been a topic near and dear to your heart for a very long time but you've really championed it in a more vocal way since Brendan's passing. What is your mission now?
JG:When Brendan passed it hurt a lot and I knew I needed to channel that pain somewhere useful. Someone a long time ago said that, “When people are alive they plant seeds in you unknowingly and if they unfortunately pass, the tears that you shed for that person water the seeds that they left for you.” I just felt really motivated to do something and hopefully help other people not feel so alone and have resources because I imagine Brendan felt very alone in his final moments so that motivation lead to a few things: during the first Wilkie Day I made a little zine called, Deep Rest, which had some very clear and concise tools for mental health, information about breathing, meditation and some very simple resources that people can use if ever they find themselves in a situation that might require getting some extra help. It's all been a very natural process and unfolded very naturally as far as doing more and building upon what we've already done. The zine essentially led to the tour that we did in Europe in May of 2023, which was the speaker series at different skate shops all over France, Spain and the U.K. pretty much presenting these tools and guiding people in meditation and breathing practices, giving very simple information on things that improves our mental health. I just want to keep doing right by Brendan and it seems like this information is much needed and so it feels like it should be my life mission moving forward. Also, we are we're printing a second version of the Deep Rest and we're gonna be giving it away for free at this event on Sunday, Wilkie Day.
NJ: You have gone on to be a world renowned pro skater and activist. If you just had just a few minutes with someone going through it, what is the most important bit of advice you could impart?
JG: I can only speak for myself on what has been most helpful to me but something that I've found that has been helpful to other people is just to really take your time and feel your way through whatever it is you're going through. We are all experiencing so much simultaneously so it's important to go slow and be gentle with the process. We're in a society that you can get anything you want with the snap of your fingers so I think we've become so accustomed to having things when we want them and grief doesn't work like that, depression doesn't work like that, building relationships doesn't work like that and building skills doesn't work like that. It all takes some time so my best advice to anybody out there's just really be cognizant of how you're treating yourself internally and know that you can still love yourself and be a work in progress.
NJ: When did you first meet Wilkie?
JG: Oh man. This is embarrassing but when I first met Wilkie we weren't friends. We were skatepark frenemies but that soon blossomed into a great friendship. I met him at Shield Skatepark and yeah we we're both just stubborn. That's where we bonded and collided at first and soon he became one of my best friends. I’d see him all the time at the skatepark. Ask anybody, he was the funniest person in the room and so fun to watch skate. He had a very natural talent. Anyone who skates knows that it's not about what you're doing but how you're doing it and man! He had style. He had style in every sense of the word and he was scholar of skateboarding. He just really took it serious and that sometimes came out as passionate anger but he was always just a delight to be around. I miss him so much. This one memory that always sticks out in my head where him and I and my dear friend Dylan Napolitan, rest in peace, would freestyle rap. This is something I was not comfortable with at the time. It's a very out of the comfort zone activity if you don't do it often and Brendan and Dylan did it with ease and made it so fun. They made me laugh so much when they were doing it so actually they got me to do it and it has just become such a fun activity that reminds me of both of them and I have plenty of fun memories in the cypher with both of them.
NJ: Brendan left an indelible mark on our scene. Everybody loved him. What was it that made people gravitate towards him?
JG: It's a great question and an easy answer. Brendan really cared about his friends, a lot. He cared about making them laugh, he cared about showing them he loved them. And he had a very funny way of doing that. He really gave a shit about the people around him and he had so much passion. I think that's why he left such a mark on everybody that he met. He would go out of his way to call you and leave you the most ridiculous voicemail and he would do this to people constantly. He just really loved his friends and he wanted to make them laugh and he wanted to talk to them and to be around them. I think having that access to his friends cut off during covid really led to what happened. Not only that but the other resources that gave him life being taken from him led to what happened.
NJ: What do you miss most about Brendan?
JG: I miss most Brendan's unapologetic and unfiltered silliness. He was the most ridiculous person in the most positive way to be around. I really miss that. I miss laughing with him. I miss him calling me. I have so many voicemails that he left me that are just so precious. I didn't think I was going to cry.
NJ: It's good to cry. Yeah, it is.
JG: We got to water those seeds somehow, right?