Mental health counselor Gloria Cissé facilitated the first Macon forum on solutions to violence.

Mental health counselor Gloria Cissé facilitated the first Macon forum on solutions to violence. She has advice for those attending the second: "Come not looking to win, but to look for solutions that benefit all of us," she says.

Credit: Grant Blankenship / GPB News

For part of her childhood, Gloria Cissé lived in an apartment now within eyesight of the Booker T. Washington Center in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood. That’s just one community center where her mental health practice, The Southern Center For Choice Theory, recently began offering counseling to young people.

When community leaders held the first in a series of public forums about what Macon-Bibb County should do about the spiking rate of violence and homicide in the city, Cissé  was tapped to facilitate the discussion.

The first forum, held in Macon’s Steward Chapel AME Church, was actually private. There, family members of victims of violence were given the floor.

Ahead of the first public forum, set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15, at the Macon Mall, GPB’s Grant Blankenship asked Cissé what she learned in the first forum and what people should know before they come to the public meeting.  

This conservation has been edited for brevity. 

Grant Blankenship: In the first conversation, why was it important for that to be between those folks and a counselor like yourself and not, say, the larger public? What were you hoping to facilitate for them through conducting the conversation that way?

Gloria Cissé: An opportunity to honestly share what was happening for them and to hopefully have people who were there who were in positions of power who could change things.

I think the one thing that was overwhelmingly evident to me is that people want to be heard. They live differently than most of us, and they want somebody else to hear that. Not just hear it, but do something about it. 

Grant Blankenship: What were some of the takeaways? What are the things that were said that night that that people need to know and maybe they probably don't know?

Gloria Cissé: What people need to know is that there's a lot of violence that's happening in our community. And it's not just violence between people who are warring each other, but it's violence that is impacting children.

There are children who — not just the little ones — who need our help and our support, but adolescents and young adults who need us all to come from behind our walls, our places of safety, and help them to understand how they can be more safe.  

Grant Blankenship: How do we begin that?

Gloria Cissé: That's a really good question. You know, in these walls, the rest of the world disappears, right? Sitting in here, in this space. But what we actually have to do is step outside of the walls, whether they are actual physical walls or psychological walls or whatever, and become intentional about engaging with people who are different than us. And that's just the first step.

When I was raising my kids, I thought it was important  for kids to know certain things. And I was kind of giving them all of this information. And one day it occurred to me that I can do all this stuff, raise my kids to be the best citizens — people — imaginable. But they're going to go out in the world and they're going to bump into other people's children.

And so what we have to do is figure out that I can't just take care of my kids. Because my kids are going to go out in the world and they're going to bump into somebody else's kids.

It’s my responsibility and it's all of our responsibility to get out there and try to make sure that all the kids have what they need when they need it.

Grant Blankenship: That idea, I think, is sort of the baseline for every political debate we're having as a nation right now, right? Whether these are all of our problems together or someone else's.  

Gloria Cissé: But it's our problem. It's all of our problem. It’s not those moms that are living in those neighborhoods and they have to put their kids under the bed at night. It's not just their problem. Those kids go to elementary school or middle school or high school with your kids. And guess what? They bring all that trauma right along with them.

So it's all of our responsibility. It's all of our responsibility. It can't be one group that fixes this. It's got to be all of us.

Grant Blankenship: So when folks were in Steward Chapel a few weeks ago and you had some of the county and city leaders there to listen, what were some of the things that they made sure that those leaders heard? What was top of mind for them?

Gloria Cissé: So some of the things that I recall were things like respect. And that they needed lights in their neighborhoods and they needed things that help them to feel safe. Not just physically safe, but psychologically safe. They needed the police to learn to be friends. And I know that we don't think that that is the responsibility of law enforcement. But in order to really serve people, I believe you have to be a servant.

Grant Blankenship: If you had to give advice to someone thinking about attending the next forum on how to come to the room, so that the forum is constructive, what kind of advice would you give?

Gloria Cissé: Come authentic, first of all, but definitely open. Because if we come with our preconceived ideas about how things should be fixed? I don't know what's good for you, you don't know what's good for me.

Come not looking to win, but to look for solutions that benefit all of us. Not just one group, but all of us.

The next public forum on solutions to violence in Macon will be held 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15, on the second floor of the Macon Mall at 3661 Eisenhower Parkway.