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Councilwoman Carmalitha L. Gumbs: Championing Mental Health in South Fulton | EUR Exclusive

exclusive interview with Carmalitha L. Gumbs
Carmalitha L. Gumbs

*Councilwoman Carmalitha L. Gumbs is a dynamic leader who has dedicated the past seven years to spearheading impactful initiatives and fostering creative goals in the City of South Fulton, Atlanta, GA.

Passionate about mental health, senior care, cultural diversity, environmental protection, and economic growth, Councilwoman Gumbs has become a pivotal figure in her district and beyond.

She recently channeled her efforts into preparing South Fulton for the inaugural Couture and Compassion fashion event earlier this month. This groundbreaking initiative, designed to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month, fused the worlds of fashion and advocacy, enlightening and mobilizing the community in support of mental health awareness.

EURweb’s Ny MaGee spoke exclusively with Councilwoman Gumbs about her unwavering commitment to making a difference in her community and beyond.

Check out our Q&A below.

Mental health awareness backdrop design
Credit: Depositphotos

How do you believe mental health awareness impacts communities, particularly in Atlanta and the City of South Fulton? 

Councilwoman Gumbs: It’s always been a taboo about mental health. We talk about it, or we joke about it or they’ll be like, let’s just go to church or have auntie or uncle pray, and that’s not how we really should be operating. We should create a space for people to talk openly about it so we can start saving more lives and giving people an outlet and that’s one of the things that I really want to focus on now. I remember hosting my first event in my community about mental health and we were talking about mental health and policing. I remember only three people showing up and that did not sit well with me. So, I started to do some more research and understanding that, even within our city within the past couple of years, we’ve seen spikes in attempted to suicides as well as suicide deaths. I’m really saying that to say that there’s a lot of work to do especially in communities of color around mental health. I want to continue to make sure that we take every avenue possible to create space for people to have these organic conversations.

What specific challenges do you see in addressing mental health within your district, and what initiatives have you implemented to overcome them?

One of the events we just had was Couture and Compassion, and that was taking a creative way to bring entertainment, arts, and fashion to also address mental health or to give resources about mental health. We had a wonderful event to kick off mental health awareness month in the city of South Fulton. It gave us a space where we can find fun and creative ways for people to really start looking at mental health differently. We had entertainers, we had dancers, we had beautiful fashion by local designers within our community. We also provided resources and a lot of cities which are municipalities don’t provide those resources.

But we have decided to partner with one of our counties, which is Fulton County to help us bridge the gap between cities and counties to make sure that we’re touching all people, to provide those resources to them. So, it was a great night, that’s one of the initiatives we are gonna continue to find ways to have people really have conversations whether to walking, whether it’s through other initiatives. One of the initiatives that I did sponsor was with our police department. If there are officers that go to any type of crime scene and their are families there and there’s additional trauma, we have made sure that we have a social worker that will go out to these calls with them to make sure they start providing resources for mental health or being able to have a resource for the family. We’re really trying to push the envelope on it and that’s some of the initiatives that we’re working on to continue to address mental health in the city.

How do you plan to ensure that mental health initiatives remain a priority in your district’s policy agenda in the long term?

Well, we’ve definitely legislated it. The city has taken resolutions the entire time that I have been a part of this council. So, we’ll have that history. I do look for champions within the community that, whether I’m sitting in the seat or not, they will always be a part of making sure that the city of South Fulton is taking part in mental health initiatives, and hopefully the person that is groomed for the seat that will follow behind me, hopefully, a young leader, will also be able to take that on. I think some of the things that we’re doing will have lasting impact.

What was the community response to the Couture and Compassion fashion event? 

It actually sold out and that was one of the things that I was concerned about. I was like, let’s see how this goes but it sold out. It was an overwhelming response. I got to see people who came out and supported neighbors, friends, and family. It was a really good time but the responses were overwhelming and they said, we’re looking forward to doing this next year. So, again, it is a creative way to get people talking about mental health through art, fashion, and entertainment. Seeing the young people come out was good for my heart.

Beyond mental health, you’ve also focused on issues such as seniors, cultural diversity, and economic growth. How do you balance these various priorities within your role as a councilwoman?

I have no idea. God has positioned me to use my voice on things that I really believe matter to the community, and all I can do is continue to walk in his purpose and continue to champion things that I feel are really important to our community. Another initiative is Black maternal health. That’s really big to my heart, along with mental health and seniors. So, I try to hit every spectrum. Once you build a quality community, you build a quality city.

Can you elaborate on what role economic growth plays in addressing social and mental health issues within your district?

Well, with a healthy city, that’s what a lot of businesses and commercial developers are looking for. They’re looking for a healthy active city. I always tell people to think about what they’re saying on these social media things. We have to build our own narrative and we are carving that out in the city of South Fulton, where people are starting to take a serious look at bringing their businesses here. We’re building a city of togetherness collectively with the residents and with our local government.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to get involved in advocating for mental health awareness within their communities?

Never give up. Be creative, and always show up. That is the message, making sure that you don’t give up —  even if you touch one person. So, like I shared about my first event, talking about mental health and only three people showed up, I at least touched one person that day, even if I didn’t touch all three, I touched one person. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a room full of people, as long as you feel your impact, that’s what matters. So, never give up and always show up.

Are there any particular resources or support systems that you believe are crucial for individuals struggling with mental health issues?

There’s a wealth of resources out there, it’s just, who’s talking about it? Who’s letting people know that they’re there and who’s not afraid to share? Silence the Shame, that organization has grown tremendously and it is really a good support group. There are resources out there, especially in the local county and then if you have creative elected officials that are thinking about the community holistically, there are also resources within their cities or municipalities that people can bring as well. It’s a lot of resources out there, it’s just who’s getting the word out now. Hopefully, I will be able to start having those conversations and letting people know what’s available to them.

How do you involve local schools and educational institutions in your efforts to raise awareness about mental health among the use?

That’s another thing too. I work very closely with the school board. We’ve had several incidents where young people have taken their lives, or attempted suicide. Kids are a little bit more vulnerable. Social media overall makes people vulnerable. But I think we’ve learned how to talk about social media, how to address issues within families, getting parents to open up a little bit more about what’s going on with their kids, and checking in. Partnering with the schools has been a tremendous help. Again, finding creative ways, whether we’re bringing a DJ, whether we’re giving out hot dogs, whether we’re doing different things, we’re creating an outlet for children to really have that conversation, or being okay with sharing how they’re feeling.

How do you envision the future of mental health awareness evolving?

Well, I see it evolving not just in my district but overall for the entire city. We’re taking the mask off and allowing people to feel comfortable about addressing any type of mental health and issue that they may be experiencing. My colleagues who have been on the board with me now are also embracing having those conversations about mental health and sharing that with their communities as well. I think overall, we are taking a stronger and more of a bigger stance. Because again, as I shared earlier, we’ve seen an increase in attempted suicide and actual suicide deaths within our community. We’re moving in a direction where we want to see that decline, where families don’t have to grieve but talk about these things ahead of time. I’m setting the president where we have colleagues that will be there after me to take the message home.

And even if I’m not here, I still will be in this community. I will be that resident that will drive everyone nuts if we’re still not talking about mental health.

Self-care is important, and being able to identify when you are in a space of having a really tough time. Don’t wait or hold it in, reach out to someone because you never know what somebody is experiencing unless you reach out to them. Isolation is real. It is a lot going on in this world. So overall, just check on your friends, check on people you love and care about even if you haven’t talked to them in two or three months. Just send a quick text, it means a lot. Take the space and take care of yourself, and others.

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