Carmel Valley resident thrives on helping to rid the world of hate through work with Anti-Defamation League

By Joe Tash

The Anti-Defamation League celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, and among the organization’s fondest goals is to put itself out of business.

Tammy Gillies (Courtesy photo)

“I would love to see myself out of a job,” said Tammy Gillies, regional director of the league’s San Diego office.

The league is marking its centennial by reflecting on its achievements, with the understanding that much work remains to be done in the arena of combating hate, discrimination and intolerance, said Gillies.

The national group divides its work into three main categories, said Gillies, 51, a Carmel Valley resident: educate, protect and investigate.

The first category involves working with schools and other organizations to provide anti-bias and diversity training, with a strong focus on prevention of bullying.

The programs run the gamut to those designed for pre-schoolers, to efforts at fighting discrimination in the workplace, said Gillies. But a heavy emphasis is placed on reaching out to young children, because research indicates that children develop prejudices by age 6.

Sarah Scott Feldman of Del Mar, a board member and chair of the ADL’s education committee, said the “No Place for Hate” program arranges for speakers at local schools, including Holocaust survivors, and Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during World War II. Another element of the program is training for peer counselors.

“We do have programs that reach out to parents, school administrators, educators and school counselors with the same message: that we want, safe, secure, open environments, so our kids can learn and be accepted,” Scott Feldman said.

Currently, the ADL gives a lot of attention to cyber-bullying through its educational outreach programs.

“Cyber-bullying is a huge problem across the country,” said Scott Feldman. “This is not a rite of passage, not part of growing up, it is harmful, hurtful and it can have devastating consequences. The ADL is committed to fighting cyber-bullying.”

The ADL was formed in 1913 in Chicago by a group of lawyers who sought to battle discrimination against Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Gillies said.

Around that time, a Jewish factory owner in Atlanta was lynched by a mob, after being tried and convicted for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl. Evidence later came out that the factory owner was innocent.

“That was an impetus for the ADL to come together, we needed to stand up against anti-Semitism,” she said.

Gillies said she is inspired by the ADL’s original mission statement, which is to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people… to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

“It’s for everyone,” she said of the ADL’s broad mandate.

Among the ADL’s big successes, she said, was advocating for a law that forced members of the Ku Klux Klan to remove their hoods when marching or demonstrating, which resulted in a rapid decline in Klan membership, and passage of national hate crimes legislation which was signed by President Obama in 2009, Gillies said.

Locally, the group has been involved in a number of issues, from responding to discrimination complaints to tracking the activities of white supremacists, Gillies said.

At one time, she said, Jews and African-Americans were prohibited by property restrictions from buying homes in La Jolla. Attitudes began to change in the 1960s, she said, when such institutions as UC San Diego and the Salk Institute were established, bringing in Jewish faculty and researchers.

“Today, the Jewish community has been well accepted in San Diego,” Gillies said. “We feel like an integral part of the entire San Diego region and it’s a wonderful place to be Jewish in America.”

When people come with complaints about discrimination, the ADL will try to help them resolve their issues, sometimes contacting officials with local institutions such as schools. In many cases, she said, the officials many not be aware that discrimination has occurred. An example, she said, would be a school scheduling its homecoming dance during the Jewish high holidays. While that would be perfectly legal, she said, it would make Jewish students feel left out.

“Having that dialogue is very important. People for the most part want to do the right thing, it’s just helping them get there,” she said.

Another ADL function is tracking and conducting research on extremists, said Gillies. The group has researchers on staff whose “job to keep track of people who we believe may be out to do harm to Jewish people or any other group of people, that have an ideology of hate,” she said.

ADL staff may even be called on to testify in court during hate crimes trials, she said.

Gillies, a mother of three, has been with the ADL for six years, and her resume may not be typical for a discrimination fighter. A native New Yorker, she spent much of her working life as an operations manager with a shoe manufacturing company before moving into the nonprofit sector. Her husband, David, is an information technology consultant.

She said she feels fortunate to have a job where she can have a positive impact on people’s lives, and plans to keep at it until she retires or helps the ADL achieve its ultimate goal of ridding the world of hate.

“It’s a calling, it’s not really a job,” she said.

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