The newest addition to ADL Southeast’s staff, Associate Regional Director LaVita Tuff, is hitting the ground running after stepping into her new position Aug. 19. An Atlanta native, her portfolio includes legislative advocacy and overseeing the ADL’s Civil Rights Committee, among other responsibilities.
Tuff graduated from North Atlanta High School, participated in the Atlanta Urban Debate League and had an internship through the Atlanta Bar Association.
“It ingrained in me early the importance of social justice, the fight to be heard and the importance of organizing around issues that affect communities of color,” she said.
She is the daughter of Antoinette Tuff, the Dekalb County Schools bookkeeper who was named Atlantan of the Year in 2013 by Atlanta magazine after convincing a gunman at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy to surrender his weapon. Antoinette Tuff now teaches strategies in dealing with difficult situations and advocates student safety — including bullying and suicide prevention.
LaVita Tuff discussed her mother’s role in shaping her perspective.
“Her approach and the work that she’s been doing with her organization has allowed me to better see the landscape of Atlanta,” Tuff said. “It has allowed me to have a more personable approach because I can see what our work looks like to the folks on the ground. I want to see change where I’m from.”
Tuff has a bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State University and a master’s in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans, as well as a law degree from the University of Baltimore. She has spent the last 10 years working to empower marginalized communities in Baltimore, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.
“My background has afforded me the opportunity to work with folks everywhere, … [including] the former mayor of Baltimore, and the governor of Maryland,” she said. “And so, because I understand how government works on various levels, I understand how to maneuver through the systems that can sometimes strongarm you.”
She will be heading up #HateFreeGA, the ADL’s initiative to pass hate crimes legislation in the 2020 session. Georgia is one of only five states that does not have some form of state-level hate crimes protection on the books.
“We’re pushing to pass legislation statewide, but not just statewide. We’re also working around the state with various municipalities. We see that places like Sandy Springs and Dunwoody and Chamblee have non-discrimination ordinances or hate crimes legislation,” she said.
While hate crimes legislation is not a new goal for the ADL in Georgia, Tuff explained that past setbacks would not discourage her from continuing to push forward.
“I think Audre Lorde said it best, ‘Revolution is not a one-time event,’” Tuff said.
ADL Southeast Regional Director Allison Padilla-Goodman praised Tuff, saying she “brings an energy and expertise to ADL’s important work around policy and partnerships. We are so excited to have her elevate our civil rights work and community response in the South, where this work is crucial and front and center.”