I’m a very community-driven person and very vocal about the causes and people I care about. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about other people are the same way, whether they put themselves out there for public service to be a candidate or elected official or they “just” go to sleep and wake up every day with heart for an issue. I get tired of hearing the mention of changemakers only being icons who have been around forever though. There are people making change now, of all abilities, ages, backgrounds, career levels, ethnicity, educational journeys, gender or sexual identities, nationalities, races, and ideals.
So, I decided to start talking to people about their stories and listening to their direction. I remember the first time I saw Leah Krevat last April at a Western Wake NC Moms Demand Action meeting in Cary. She was all bubbly (and still a little tired) from a busy day of advocacy at the NC General Assembly the day before. I admired that it seemed to be a family affair with Madhavi, her Mom, right there along with her.
A couple weeks ago, I reached out and last week we had lunch.
Lindsay K. Saunders: How would you describe your own identity?
Leah Krevat: Very serious and active. I can be fun sometimes, but mostly I have to be serious and that’s not always funny. I get into things. I’m 17 years old. I just turned 17 in October. I’m half Indian and half Jewish, but also an atheist. So around the holidays, we still do something cultural and fun, but for Hanukkah we get together as a family. That means chocolate coins from my Grandma.
Lindsay: That sounds fun. What issues, no matter how big or small, matter most to you?
Leah: Gun violence definitely. Climate change. Women’s rights. LGBTQ rights. Those are my top 4. I’ve had LGBTQ rights on my list forever before I became an activist because I have so many friends who identify as LGBTQ rights and I believe they should have equal rights as we do.
Lindsay: I’m with you there, but — and I’ll admit that I’ve had arguments with people about this so it’s all open to perspective, but do you think there is something you might be more concerned about because of your identity?
Leah: I’ve had arguments with people about gun violence, especially now because I’ve had so many experiences with it. I’ve had six fake gun threats at my school and I’ve had fear every time on those days, but I HAVE to go to school. My brother was on the UNC-Charlotte campus when that shooting was going on (April 30, 2019). I’ve told people, who I’ve had arguments with that it happens to everyone, everyday, not just on college campuses. It happens in communities, in places of worship and everywhere. Schools, churches, movie theaters, everywhere, even outside Concord Mills Mall in Charlotte.
Last year after NC Moms Demand Action Advocacy Day (April 10), I was in a sandwich shop and some guy came in with a gun on his hip. It startled me. My Mom sent me outside to calm down. I’d never seen one up close like that.
Responding to Issues
Lindsay: Gun violence really frustrates me too. That had to be scary. How do you deal?
Leah: When I see stuff on the news, I’ll see a march is being organized or a rally and it’s like, “we gotta go!” Unfortunately, when we had a Climate Strike last March I was at school and I had to miss it. I was in school, but my parents were there though. It’s a huge issue, not just for our country, but our world.
Madhavi Krevat: That’s how we got so politically active. Parkland happened (February 14, 2018). She came to us in tears. What should I do? Parkland was having a rally. We went and signed up to attend the Moms Demand events in Raleigh.
Leah: When I’m on adrenaline, I don’t remember the big things that have happened, but Congressman Price speaking out about passing legislation in Congress and Holly Springs Town Council Member Aaron Wolff sharing how he experienced gun violence at Virginia Tech matters. The violence needs to end!
Lindsay: I know what you mean. I’ve really struggled with it. I want a safer world to exist for a family I’m hoping to have. I don’t even have kids yet and I’m so worried. What do you DO about these things that rattle you?
Leah: I talk to a lot of politicians who are in the General Assembly, even on our local Town Council.
I talk to other people to see how they feel about it.
My Mom and I will come up with an idea and go say, “what do you think of this? What do you think about that?” After my sixth (shooting) hoax threat happened, my Mom was like, “I’m done.” Then we decided to host an Apex Town Meeting about gun violence. We’re getting this organized for April and we’re going to spread the word.
Madhavi: We’re going to teach people about gun violence in the community and things like why hoax threats are not funny. We’re planning an Apex Gun Sense Town Meeting on April 25. We’re also working at the School Safety Initiative. Leah’s speaking at the Wake County PTA Meeting to send home a letter about the safe storage law. We’re not sure everyone’s aware about the law that says parents and guardians have to keep the weapons out of kids’ hands by storing them safely.
It’s going to be a Gun Sense Town Meeting. We’ll invite the entire town of Apex and are tabling with a range of groups. We’re calling this collective group, the “Peak City Gun Violence Prevention.” Last summer, our advocacy and response to Jacob’s (Leah’s older brother) being on campus at the UNC-C shooting was featured in a Refinery29 article.
Changing Minds & Partnering for Change
Lindsay: That’s impressive. What about when you encounter differing viewpoints for those issues?
Leah: I just tell people that this issue is affecting me in a certain way. Can you bring it up and say you know they’re (LGBTQ friends) not being treated equally? Can a legislator make a law?
Education is important to me too. Being a student, I realize this is part of school safety and making sure teachers are paid enough. They’re at school longer than we are. They are grading our work and planning for us. They should be treated fairly. We’re marching for them year after year, especially because of the budget issue.
Lindsay: I’m with you there. Are there groups or people that YOU align with or follow?
Leah: Again, I’m with Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action. We’ve also partnered with March for Our Lives. NC Climate Strike page on Instagram. I follow a lot of organizations on social media. I follow along with ChangeTheRef, Orange Ribbons for Jamie (Fred Guttenberg lost his daughter and created that), and other groups around gun safety. Fred brings up his daughter in every tweet, which is so powerful. I’m also part of the Equality NC group. They endorse candidates who are for equality, women’s rights, and lots of different things.
When Everything Changed
Lindsay: We follow a lot of the same people online. Fred really gets to me, as well. What he does in memory of his daughter is just…mind-blowing how he’s turned that loss into something powerfully good. When did you feel the spark to become engaged and be part of making change?
Leah: It was Parkland. I was 15 years old. I was a sophomore in high school. That’s so weird to say! I just saw the news with an active shooter situation in Florida. I get the news notification on my phone and I was like, “oh my gosh.” I’ll be saddened by an event and I don’t know how much we can do. This time it really got to me. How many victims there were and how old they were. They were my age. I cried over it. This is the FIRST time I really cried over a major news story. As I was coming home, I think there were 11 victims who had died from it.
Madhavi: I was going to talk to you, but you came to me first.
Leah: We both talked about it and she said, “we could get active if you want” and I was like, “yes.” It was Valentine’s Day. Every time I saw my friend had gotten something for Valentine’s Day and, uh gross, so I’m already feeling sad. The news just made me sadder as the day went on. My Dad had a friend over for dinner and I couldn’t even talk to him because it was too much.
Madhavi: We used to talk about politics and the kids would leave the table. Now the kids stay and are actively part of the conversation.
Leah: Now, I stay.
Now I can BE part of the conversation.
Lindsay: You are definitely part of the conversation and I’d say you actually help drive it. Who inspires you? What have you learned from your so-called “idols” that you own in your own way of making change?
Leah: Actually, the two people I look up to, especially in politics are Taylor Swift and Jane Fonda.
I saw Taylor’s recent documentary, Miss Americana, on Netflix. She was speaking up about someone running who believed in standing up for LGBTQ rights. I love her even more now. Her songs and her being politically active.
I also look up to Jane Fonda. She’s been an actress all her life. She’s in the show “Grace and Frankie,” but she’s active in Climate Strike #FridaysForFuture. She walks off smiling when she gets arrested. I follow her on social media. She gets her fans engaged. She’s invited her costars to get engaged. They get arrested too.
Lindsay: Um, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you tweeting at Shannon Watts (Founder of Moms Demand) because I’m admiring her too!
Leah: SO many other idols. Shannon Watts is definitely one of my idols though. I got to see her on stage at the beginning of Gun Sense University, a whole Moms Demand Action get together last August.
Lindsay: What’s Gun Sense University?
Leah: It was in D.C., but it’s in different states all around the country. Going last year was so much fun. In Students and Moms Demand Action we get together and get connected on how to stay nonpartisan, learning more about how to be effective advocates. The El Paso shooting had just happened (August 3, 2019), on Saturday night, so instead of going for more forums, we went to the White House and rallied. It was the coolest thing ever.
Leah’s Passion Launching Goals
Lindsay: That definitely sounds cool. I would have gone with you! What kinds of career or educational goals do you have?
Leah: I am actually going to Wake Technical Community College right now to study political science. Last year, seeing friends — Cheryl Stallings and Terry Mahaffy — run for and get elected to Apex Town Council was inspiring. They ran and I thought, I want to do that. Maybe I’ll run for office. For right now, staying local. I want to run for office on the town council or work my way up. Mayor? NCGA? I’ve been to a few town council meetings and talked. No matter how nerve-racking it was, I got through to them. Our old town council was harder, but we’re making changes, which is good. We canvassed and we poll-greeted. If my friends could do it, I could do it too.
Lindsay: I believe it! How do your goals align with your passion?
Leah: Again, just doing politics. I think it has to do with politics and that’s my passion.
Lindsay: I believe you can make your passion your work. What are some community change things that you’ve never tried before, but would still like to?
Leah: I feel like I’ve done things I’ve never tried before. Go to rallies, town council meetings, meetups, meet’n greets, precinct meetings. We had a precinct meeting at our house and that was a WHOLE new experience. We hosted it.
Madhavi: We even hosted events for both Deborah Ross and Monika Johnson-Hostler, who are both running for the 2nd Congressional District in North Carolina. We try to be fair.
Leah: We had a representative from Team Warren to talk about Warren and her plans too.
Lindsay: That’s impressive. How do you tell your own story?
Leah: I feel like when I tell my own story, especially with gun violence, even though I get emotional, it’s empowering to be emotional. Even though you’re being “weak,” either you’re allowing yourself to be “weak” in front of 200 Moms Demand volunteers or your local town council. I feel empowered because next time I speak I can cry or stay strong if I want to. I don’t need to have to control my emotions. You need to allow yourself to cry or be emotional. It’s hard. If you want to cry, cry, but then you need to get back up and fight.
Lindsay: That’s it, girl. How do you just let loose and have fun?
Leah: I play music. I play guitar and try to play the piano as best as I can, sometimes just chords. I’ll write songs and start playing Wii U. I’ll be playing Mario Kart. My family and I like to go for museum visits. I have a lot of fun with my family.
Lindsay: Sounds nice. Don’t stop dreaming and inspiring. How can people connect with or follow you?
Enjoyed this changemaker story? I’m doing a series about changemakers under age 40 in the NC Triangle and want to present a diverse range of narratives. If you or someone you know is making change in the area, I want to interview them and feature their story. Email me at lindsayksaunders at gmail dot com to connect.
Lindsay K. Saunders is a North Carolina native, communications and outreach professional, community builder, and activist for a safer, happier, healthier, smarter, and more equitable, just world. Lindsay is also a Millennial who optimistically believes there is more creative change happening around us than we appreciate or realize.