church & city | Interview by Julian Lucas

Dr. Saniyyah Mayo is a Pomona native who graduated from Pomona High School. She was born to parents who were from Ghost Town and Sin Town neighborhoods of Pomona. Dr. Mayo grew up on the North Side of Pomona, known as the Islands. Like many young African American youth, she persevered through and experienced numerous trials and tribulations throughout her life. However, she conquered every obstacle and defeated life challenges.

Dr. Mayo’s background is extensive as she is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, a screen writer, author, former government employee and works with at risk youth. She holds an honorary Doctorate and an undergraduate in Criminal Justice. If that isn’t impressive she is also the CEO and Founder of Girls Gossip and Women Network LLC.

Can you describe what it looks like for you to work with at risk youth within the community?

While working in the community I provide mental health and self-esteem building workshops for the youth. I think it is imperative to build up their view of self from an early age and provide them with healthy coping skills.

One of the books you have written, “Identifying & Breaking The Cycle” discusses negative cycles of behaviors. How long ago was this book written? Did you compile and research information based on working with at risk youth? 

Identifying & Breaking the Cycles was published in 2013. I compiled research based on working with individuals from all ages, cultures, genders, and backgrounds. It was not necessarily about a specific age group but rather about the mindset of people in general. 

Your other book, “Transition of a Butterfly”, is about a 16 year old girl that moves from New York to the west coast and addresses her experiences and relationships. Would you care to give a brief overview? 

The focus is on a 16 year-old girl and different people she encounters on her journey of life. They book shows the different challenges that each character experience and how they overcome it and the impact of their life when they do not overcome it at all. The challenges range from family dysfunction to suicide. The book challenges readers to think about their own issues in life and promotes ways of healthy coping to live a fulfilled life. I wanted to showcase that everyone at some point in life is dealing with something but how we get through it is key.

As the CEO of Girls Gossip and Women Network, you have given talks and facilitated workshops specifically for young female students. Is this your current project? Does this specifically target young females of color? 

Yes, this is one of my current projects and no I do not target females of color. Mental Health does not discriminate by race or gender and neither do I. Even though the program is tailored to girls, I have had boys attend the program. My goal is to educate and provide skills to anyone that needs it and by excluding others by race is only hurting us as a society.

With so many females empowering other females, do you envision a female president in the next presidential election? Would she be someone of color? 

I can definitely see Kamala Harris as our next president. However, gender and race of our next president should not and is not the focus for me. I am more concerned about whomever steps into that role is fit to challenge the status quo and bring a positive change to the United States. It is time for Americans to come together instead of being divided. I am disappointed about the focus of our current presidential candidates. I have not yet heard anything about restoring and impacting our urban communities. Urban communities are often overlooked and that is something I am getting tired of as a woman of color that was exposed to those type of environments while growing up.

What is one thing you express to the young females you are facilitating workshops? 

The biggest thing I teach is to love oneself. Knowing your value for anyone is one of the biggest keys to life. Teaching them to love themselves unlocks many doors and brings forth opportunities. If a person does not see their own worth it allows others to take advantage of them and keep them stuck at the bottom. Loving all of you allows you to see your strengths and weaknesses. However, identifying a weakness should push a person to get better in those areas. Love promotes confidence and self-awareness. It is only when an individuals love themself is when they can actually tap into their greatness and do anything they set their mind on. 

What is a piece of advice you tell at risk youth overall? 

I always give the advice to never give up and that everyone has a story and started somewhere. It may get hard at times but keep going. I like to give them the example that my dad once gave me. It is like being on the sidewalk watching a parade. The parade has a beginning, middle, and an end. While standing on the sidewalk your view is limited because you can only see what is before you. Just because we can only see the current state does not mean it will not change. Just like a parade many great floats are coming you just have to be patient to see what is coming next. However, if you leave the parade before it ends you will miss the most magical floats. That is the same way we have to look at life, be patient and see it through to get to the good part. It is often hard at times but longevity is always well worth it. 

As a woman of color who has grown up and experienced hardships, what are your views on the war on drugs and Kamala Harris? 

We all know that the war on drugs was created to criminalize a particular group of people. The war on drugs impacted the urban communities and that was the goal in my opinion. When you have cocaine being a lesser charge than crack it becomes obvious that the war on drugs was a joke. It was just another tactic to justify the unfair and biased treatment of people of color and or people from a lower income background. I think Kamala Harris is doing the right thing by trying to fix the problem now. However, I think it is always easy to be an advocate for change that should have happened decades ago when the current goal is seeking votes. 

As a therapist, have you ever had clients (couples) that were of the same gender? What was your approach?

Yes, I consistently get couples of the same gender due to the shift of the LGBTQ community. I treat every couple the same without prejudice and biases. I do not agree with all of their beliefs, decisions etcetera. However, I have many heterosexual couples that I also do not always share the same beliefs, values, and opinions. I am pretty sure a medical doctor does not always share the same ideologies as their patients but that does not negate the fact that the patient needs help. As a therapist it is imperative that you put your views and opinions aside for the betterment of the client. It is not about me but about my client. So how I feel and believe is irrelevant when I am in my profession just like any other profession. 

As an African American therapist, have you ever experienced any type of positive or negative reaction from someone of a different race who becomes your client? 

Yes, I have experienced both but it was never based on race. I have had more positive reactions than negative. The negative reactions usually come later in the therapy relationship due to a client not wanting to hear the truth about a situation. Clients do not always like when you challenge them in their negative thinking and or negative coping skills because it is much easier to remain the same. Overall more than not my clients love the work that we accomplish together. They may get frustrated but they know it is for their benefit. 

You left Pomona wanting a better life for your family. When was the last time you visited Pomona and have you seen any change?  

The last time I was in Pomona was in June of this year. I have connections with individuals that still reside in Pomona and based on conversations and limited observation I would say that I haven’t seen much positive changes from my childhood to now. I think there are many programs and things they can implement for the youth, homeless population, and the residents as a whole. However, when trying to implement my mental health program through the school district and city it was always a matter of not having enough funding. Many times it is a lack of funding and or not wanting to invest the funding in things that will serve the community. I wanted to be the change that I want to see; therefore I provided free workshops to help individuals find their passion to pursue their purpose in the city of Pomona back in 2017.

There was a time when Pomona had a higher percentage of African Americans living within the community. Why do you feel those numbers have decreased? 

I think those numbers are decreasing everywhere due to the influx of immigrants coming to the United States. Another reason is that many African Americans are leaving the city. My parents grew up in the city and many of my family members owned homes. However, due to the poor conditions regarding gang violence and limited opportunities they sold their homes and moved to better areas to receive what was lacking in Pomona. 

Do you feel Pomona will eventually progress? 

I think any place can progress with the right leadership. The real question is not if it can, but when?