NEW ORLEANS -- One woman spoke Tuesday about how being a victim led her to take a stand by reaching out to the man caused her pain.

"Public safety is probably the most important issue, in New Orleans for me," Deborah Cotton said.

Cotton knows this for a fact. She was a victim of gun violence three years ago while working as a freelance reporter in the 7th Ward.

"I was one of nineteen people shot at a second-line Mother's Day in 2013," Cotton said. "I was only shot once, but it ripped diagonally up, so it went in my hip and came out right below my heart. So, it took out several organs and partial organs".

The single gunshot wound resulted in multiple hospital visits and more than 30 surgeries. Still, despite her pain and suffering, one thing lingered on her mind; why.

"I was just trying to understand what makes a criminal," Cotton said. "What a person with that kind of heart and the kind of skill and outlook that they can look at a crowd of strangers and shoot them."

Cotton reached out to the man, many people in her situation would never want to see again: her shooter. Cotton found out he faced several issues as a child.

"He had brothers, you know, but they were all you know, into selling drugs," Cotton said. "That was the family business. I am in contact with him and I'm trying to help him find ways to stay encouraged and to have a positive impact on the environment around him. And so, he's writing a lot and writing poetry and getting in touch with his spirituality and he's actually doing good."

Cotton shared her story with organizers and advocates during a community forum Tuesday night. Policy Link and United Way of Louisiana held a forum and listening session Tuesday, which focused on improving public safety.

From inequality to poverty, dozens of people from the community shared their views on what is needed to make New Orleans a safer place to live.

"We really wanted to understand how," said Anand Subramanian, Senior Director of Policy Link said. "How the community here tries to improve trust between the community and police."

Policy Link is conducting a national study on five pilot cities, New Orleans being one of them. When they are finished with their study, they plan on taking their findings to the City of New Orleans and the police department.

From inequality to poverty, dozens shared their views on what's needed to make New Orleans a safer place to live.

"I think we all believe that the law enforcement officials in our community have a role to play, but we also have a role to play," Michael Williamson, President and CEO of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana said. "We have personal responsibilities."

It is those personal responsibilities, helping uplift one another, Cotton believes, makes a difference in the end.

"We really have to make their struggle our struggle. Their wounds our wounds. Their dreams our dreams," Cotton said.

Cotton now helps other survivors of violent crimes also become advocates for public safety.

The United Way of Southeast Louisiana said the city and NOPD are both on board with their cause and are looking forward to seeing the results of Tuesday night's conversation.

If you'd like to provide questions, perspectives or commentary on improving public safety, please contact