Among the well-known speakers featured at ADL’s Never is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate — including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Rabbi Jeffrey Myers — was a lesser-known, yet dynamic, freshman student from the University of Georgia.
Katy Gates, who lives in Forsyth County and is on a pre-law track at UGA, talked about how she became a “changemaker” starting at 15 years old. “I have always been interested in current events,” she told the AJT, starting with the midterm elections in 2018. She was only 16 when she attained her first political job.
“I didn’t even interview for the job. I just ran into then-congressional candidate and now U.S. Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux from Georgia’s 7th congressional district. I had no idea what I was doing,” said Gates. “First you start by handling mailings and answering phones, then I moved into the communications department. I sat in on strategic calls. I ended up running the ‘Students for Carolyn.’ It was a fantastic experience. I learned about messaging and best practices.”
Gates had sat on an ADL panel in August, capturing attention with her story and enthusiasm. On Nov. 9, during the virtual Never is Now Summit, she spoke about best practices and how to get young people involved, as well as how to get adults to be supportive of youth initiatives.
As young as she is, Gates has some experience with this. “I really believe that without young people, our ideas and enthusiasm,” the political environment would be worse than it already is, she said. She launched Students for DEI — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — in May, and is now thinking of extending its reach nationally. The initiative started almost as an accident, using Instagram as a platform. Gates’s public school in Forsyth had a DEI program and a “local group of parents organized to get rid of it. They equated it with critical race theory,” a curriculum that is only taught in upper-level graduate courses, but has now become a political hot potato, with many parents confusing it with teaching the country’s difficult racial history — including slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws in the South.
She founded Students for DEI to raise awareness, and the “response I got was overwhelming. It spread into other counties in the metro area,” she said. The group holds weekly meetings and is in the process of rebranding and restructuring. “We’d like to take it nationwide.”
Group members organize to speak at local school board meetings. Tellingly, she complains that “it’s hard to get school boards to listen to students.” The Forsyth County school board is in the process of creating a committee to discuss such things as diverse literature requirements. Gates wants the committee to be composed of teachers and students, but “there are not as many students involved” as she would like.
Gates attributes some of her political activism to “growing up around immigrant communities.” She doesn’t claim that her interests derive directly from Judaism. Although her mother is “technically Jewish,” Gates wasn’t brought up in the religion. Only in the past year or so has she been asking her mother questions about her Jewish upbringing. And last year, the family celebrated Chanukah.
But what she has learned of Jewish values has begun to resonate. She points particularly to Judaism’s emphasis on justice and that it’s always okay to question and be curious.
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Katy Gates
- Students for Diversity Equity and Inclusion
- University of Georgia
- Never is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate
- Vice President Kamala Harris
- Foreign Minister Yair Lapid
- Tree of Life Synagogue
- Rabbi Jeffrey Myers
- Forsyth County
- Carolyn Bourdeaux
- virtual Never is Now Summit
- Critical Race Theory
- youth initiatives
- racial history
- Jim Crow segregation laws
- local school board meetings
- diverse literature requirements
- immigrant communities