This is the message Cysner seeks to convey to troubled teens, caught in a cycle of poverty, gangs and other dismal conditions that lead all too commonly to violence.
Cysner, who works in UCLA’s Center for Student Programming as an adviser to student groups, has spent most of her life volunteering for youth. For 20 years she has worked with athletes, families and coaches in the Westside Special Olympics. She has led numerous workshops on diversity and conflict resolution for UCLA student leaders.
For the past eight years, she has served in five Inglewood schools in a program called Alternatives to Violence, teaching communication techniques, anger management and conflict mediation to middle and high school students — and in some cases, their teachers.
“Mostly I listen,” says Cysner, a trained mediator who tries her best to see things from the perspective of those she works with. Only then, she says, “can I help them find ways to communicate in a different way than using physical violence.”
Many of the students have been abused, neglected and demoralized. Many have a long history of getting into trouble at school. “I get kids telling me, ‘I feel that nobody cares,’ ” she recounts. “If it happens at home, and they go to school and feel nobody’s listening there, too, they get angry.”
Cysner strives to teach students to channel their emotions into leadership skills. She has her success stories, among them, former gang leaders who return to talk to students now in her workshops.
It’s an uphill climb, she admits. “It’s hard — I have to be honest. And yet, at the same time, I know that it’s not going to change unless I try.”