Steven Allen, Deputy Director of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, is retiring at the end of this month.
Steve first visited Families as Allies in 2017, in the midst of a politically charged situation. He had only recently been promoted to Deputy Director. We talked for a long time. He asked a lot of questions and listened to the answers. He was kind and friendly. When he left, he told me my office chairs were uncomfortable. Thus began a relationship that has been characterized by warmth, honesty and humor ever since.
I appreciate Steve’s openness to learning about family-run organizations and family-driven practice. I also appreciate that Steve has given me opportunities to visit with him—and people who work in some of Mississippi’s state institutions—about what it means to value the dedicated care they offer while moving toward a system that allows more people to live in the community. Those conversations are hard. They are about real people and real situations. They cannot be boiled down to sound bites. But we need to face difficult realities and grapple with them together. I am thankful that my relationship with Steve allows that. We need more of that kind of communication In Mississippi.
Steve and I frequently end up in the same place at the same time, sometimes working in the same direction and sometimes working in different directions. He is always kind and friendly, regardless of whether we are thinking through an issue together at the mental health planning council or if I have just shared with a reporter why I disagree with something Steve said. Steve is open when he disagrees with me and shares information to support his points.
One of my favorite memories of Steve is him coming across the courtroom to warmly greet me at the US v Mississippi mental health trial. He was there as a witness for the state, and I was there hoping the state would be found in violation. But he was still focused on the friendship. Steve never seems threatened by different perspectives.
The one thing that Steve and I have never disagreed on is the importance of people with mental illness and their families having the support that they need.
When someone is around you a lot they sometimes see many parts of you. Steve has seen me grieve on a day that I wasn’t expecting to grieve. I share that story only because of what it says about Steve. He was so supportive. He grieved with me.
Families as Allies is grateful for Steve’s support and openness. I am grateful for his kindness, humor and friendship. We wish him a happy retirement and the very best in the next stage of his journey.