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Michael Casey's "You Matter" movement turns depression to positivity

Michael Casey (right) hits the Fargo-Moorhead streets spreading his simple, feel-good gospel.

Michael Casey (right) hits the Fargo-Moorhead streets spreading his simple, feel-good gospel.

There’s a lot of talk lately about whose lives matter. Black lives, all lives. Michael Casey just wants to say you matter.

Over the past month, the North Dakota State University senior’s been rallying his friends a few times a week to picket intersections with a positive message semantics can’t divide. Casey and crew hit the streets hoisting signs around the Fargo-Moorhead area reading simply “You Matter,” his nascent group’s namesake slogan.

“I wanted to instill a sense of worth within people,” the English major explains.

Although he is a supporter, Casey’s grass-median movement has no connection to Black Lives Matter, despite the assumptions of some passersby. Rather, the roots of his sidewalk occupations lie in internal struggle.

“A couple years ago I went through a brief suicidal period in my life,” Casey explains. “I decided that my anguish and my past pain that I had could be more useful for me to release it — release the anguish in a way that could help the community and the people around me.”

So the 21-year-old mans the corner peddling hugs, handshakes, and words so simple they can’t be misconstrued. Casey wanted something concise by design so that it’s applicable to everyone regardless of ethnicity or religion.

“To some people Black Lives Matter seems like it only means for black people, because they don’t understand the connotations and everything,” Casey says. “That’s why we try to keep You Matter simple.”

The Annandale native’s first solo outing was quiet — a couple honks, maybe a wave. But since assembling his feel-good posse (five or six deep on a good day) the reaction has grown. Some pull over to talk or take pictures.

One day Casey and friends were kicking it at a Pizza Ranch in Fargo. The guy in the next booth, who had seen them working a corner, came over to talk and show off a tattoo. Inked on his arm was the date he tried to kill himself — a reminder that those darker times are in his past.

“He told us that story and how seeing our signs was another moment that he will always cherish,” Casey recalls. “After he left we all had a little cheers at Pizza Ranch with our sodas. We sat there in like a ‘wow’ moment — ‘Holy wow! That happened?’ It’s crazy to think how something so simple and so easy for us has impacted somebody else.”