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Mary J. Blige: 'My spirit is what saved me' from suicide

By Andrea Mineo, CNN
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Mary J. Blige gives back
  • Mary J. Blige's women's center a dream come true for the singer, she says
  • Blige said she considered suicide when a teen, but her spirit wouldn't allow it
  • New center will help women "from all walks of life"
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Women's Issues
  • Music
  • Suicide

New York (CNN) -- On a beautiful fall day in Yonkers, New York, just north of New York City, Mary J. Blige stepped onto the sidewalk on South Broadway.

"I love you!" yelled one of the women in the crowd.

Blige waved. "Hi. How are you doing?"

For the people in the neighborhood, one of their own had come back. And she wasn't just anyone, she was MJB -- a real celebrity standing right there on South Broadway.

Cellular phones and digital cameras were raised in the air to capture images of Blige in all of her blonde pixie-haired grace.

The appearance wasn't for a singing engagement or a CD signing. This was a dream being fulfilled, a symbol of her own struggles as a child and a young woman. It was the official ribbon-cutting for the Mary J. Blige Center for Women.

The building has no sign yet, but its pastel-painted rooms will soon become a haven for women and young girls, offering them different programs for education, life skills, self-empowerment and much more if Blige has her way.

FFAWN (Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now), which was founded by Blige and Steve Stoute, partnered with design house Gucci and Westchester Jewish Community Services to bring Blige's center to fruition.

After local officials spoke, Blige stepped up.

"When I was 5 years old there was a lot that happened to me ... that I carry ... all my life."

Her voice filled with emotion. People in the crowd started to yell in support. "Don't cry!" "It's OK, Mary!" "We love you!"

Blige removed her sunglasses to wipe away her tears.

"And when ... I was growing up after that, I saw so many women beaten to death, almost to their death, by men."

CNN spoke with Blige at the center. She talked about her personal struggles as a young woman, how her spirit helped her rise above thoughts of suicide and her plans to help women now. The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: I feel like you can really help young women. Do you feel that way?

Mary J. Blige: I always felt that I wanted to help women, period. As a child I [saw] women really, really suffer terrible, terrible situations, and I vowed as a child to want to do something -- anything -- that can help them have better self-esteem so that they don't have to be subjected to men that wanted to kill them.

In my music, that's what I've been doing in my career, and now through FFAWN I'm doing that.

CNN: Today was touching, especially seeing you break down and talk about your life. Was it difficult to go to that place?

Blige: Well, today was very, very heavy. It was happy and sad because you know the very place where I've seen so many women suffer is the sad part, and the very place that I suffered is the sad part. But the happy part is I'm back to help. I'm back doing what I dreamed to do. My dream is coming true.

CNN: Will all age ranges be able to come here and seek guidance?

Blige: All age ranges will be able to come to this center. Women from all walks of life, not just women from poverty-stricken areas. ... Whatever it is, they'll be able to come here. There are gonna be psychologists here, doctors here, day care centers here. Anything that you need or they need to be able to better themselves is here for them.

CNN: What got you through when you were young?

Blige: I guess what got me through when I was young was something I guess a lot of people don't have and that was just the will. ... I don't know what was driving me. I guess it was something in me did want to die -- you know, I guess my spirit didn't want to die, but my physical body definitely was at some point was like I gotta get out of here. ... My physical body was contemplating suicide and all this other crazy stuff, and my spirit is what saved me, I believe.

CNN: Do you think there are enough resources out there for women?

Blige: I think there's definitely enough resources, but ... a lot of women are ashamed to come forth. What I believe I've done for women is show them, look, I'm Mary J. Blige and I'm telling you you don't have to be ashamed. ...

That's why I think as celebrities we're given this job. We're not given this job to just hold onto this stuff and die with it. We're given this job to be able to touch someone and say, "me, too," because they look up to us and look to us for help and guidance and want to be able to relate to us.

CNN: When you reached adulthood what set you free?

Blige: The truth was ... I had to admit that I needed help and I needed help in self-love and finding myself. And I had to admit that although I was ashamed that I didn't know who I was. ...

CNN: Will you be up here and have time in your schedule to come to the center?

Blige: I will definitely be up here. I mean before this building had this much in it I was here with the girls. ... I would come and talk to them, I'd give them things, I sent them clothes. I'd get their letters, I'd send them letters back. I'm definitely gonna be here.

CNN: Have you had a sigh of relief that it has all come to fruition?

Blige: I am so happy today is the day, ya know? We cut the ribbon.