Makayla Gathers has always been motivated to help others and connect her community.
As a senior in the IB Diploma Program at Myers Park High School, Gathers has indeed left an impressionable mark on the student body.
She has always been interested in activism, especially when it comes to advocating for equity in today’s educational system. Gathers, who hopes to become a civil rights attorney in the future, plans to major in government and political science. She has recently been accepted into Harvard University, which she has been dreaming about since she was 5 years old.
“I love advocacy of all types, especially when it comes to equity in education,” Gathers said. “I feel like so many youths in Charlotte have felt its effects. We all experienced the effects of whether your classroom looks a certain way or feels a certain way and I think that's really important because that can change the entire educational experience for youth, not even just in Charlotte, but in the United States that we've seen in history.”
Gathers is already on track to achieving her goals. She is Senior Class president and a member of the National Honor Society. She founded the school’s first Black Student Union as a sophomore and currently serves as president. Gathers felt as though something must be done to connect Black students with the rest of the school. She wanted them to feel safe sharing their culture, especially outside of a normal history class.
“I also felt like there was a moment where we really just needed our voices to be heard and I felt like it would be a great opportunity to educate the entire school in addition to learning things about our culture and ourselves,” Gathers said.
During her junior year, Gathers hosted a town hall event to kick start the first Black Student Union. Teachers and students from her school were all in attendance and were encouraged to share their experiences with the rest of the group. The event marked the first step in creating a game plan for the coming academic year, which became virtual due to the pandemic, but it did not stop Gathers and her dream for the growth of the Black Student Union. They hosted virtual speakers, such as Mecklenburg County Commissioner Mark Jerrell and civil rights icon Dorothy Counts Scoggins, someone Gathers has always been inspired by. They also held a historically Black college event with a representative who talked to students interested in attending an HBCU.
Now that school is back to in-person learning, Gathers was excited to be hosting Myers Park’s Black History Month program with performances from different clubs, such as the dance team, choir program, and orchestra.
“It just feels so good when you see everyone at the biggest school in North Carolina taking part in things like Black History Month,” she said. “We’ve really been able to create that bond between each other as Black Student Union members and it’s only growing.”
In addition to connecting the school community, Gathers wanted the Black Student Union to be a positive support system for Black students as well. The organization created a safe and easy way for Black students to report racially related issues that may have occurred inside or outside their classes. Gathers feels like the change has increased communication among the student body and school administration.
Gathers is proud of her work thus far. She feels as though there is still more changes to be made, but the Black Student Union has done a good job of getting the ball rolling.
Her achievements extend far beyond academics. Gathers is passionate about all her extracurricular activities as well. She has been playing volleyball for both her school and club team for years. She has also been involved with Girl Scouts of America since 2009 and received the Girl Scout Gold Award in 2021. Gathers has always been interested in theater as well. She has been a member of the International Thespian Society since 2018.
Gathers said she is inspired by her mother and grandmother. She was able to juggle all her activities while still maintaining a perfect grade point average, with their support.
“I feel extremely proud and thrilled for my daughter,” said her mother Telonda Gathers. “Ever since a young age Mikayla has always been extremely bright, extremely inquisitive, and extremely compassionate and caring toward others. Even from a young age her leadership was evident to those around her. I remember at the age of four her preschool teachers gave her the Madame President award because she was a natural born leader.”
Gathers was also highly influenced by the election of Barack Obama in 2008 while she was in preschool.
“I think that might honestly have changed the course of my life,” she said. “It was the first time kids like me were able to see somebody like that in the highest position in our country. It encouraged the idea that my hopes and dreams are far beyond what anyone can imagine.”