Rising Stars: Mae Gates, office of Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas

Mae Gates. Photo, Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly

Only 24 years old, Mae Gates is already chief of staff for a state senator, owner of a political consulting business and a passionate advocate for food justice.

She is focused on empowering Black women. “All the hardships I have had in my life, a circle of women around me have gotten me through,” she said. “Black women professionals saw something in me and helped me. I’m about uplifting Black women wherever I can.”

As leader of the office team for state Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, Gates is believed to be the youngest chief of staff in the capitol now as well as the youngest woman and youngest person of color in that role.

“How did she achieve this leadership role at such a young age?” said Jennifer Fearing, president of an advocacy firm that helps mission-based organizations.  “All you have to do is meet her to understand why. Mature, calm composed, friendly, confident – all of these adjectives apply to Mae.”

Gates helps Smallwood-Cuevas represent District 28, which includes some 1 million people in Los Angeles. Gates’ duties include managing her staff, advising the senator on bills, coordinating endorsements and fundraising, representing her at engagements and more. It’s a demanding job that requires long hours and difficult decisions.

“The job never stops,” Gates said. “The moment you put out one fire, there are five more waiting for you.”

It’s also a challenge that there are not enough young people or Black people working at the Capitol.

“The job never stops. The moment you put out one fire, there are five more waiting for you.”

She appreciates the power she has to hire people and give more opportunities to young working class women. Gates said she is proud of her young staff. “They are amazing and are going to go far.”

Gates met Smallwood-Cuevas through Gates’ political consulting business-MGA Consulting, which does campaign management, fundraising, communications and organizational development. She helped lead three successful state legislative campaigns (Sen. Smallwood-Cuevas’ and Assemblymember Isaac Bryan’s elections in 2022 and former Sen. Sydney Kamlager’s re-election in 2020).

Born in Gulfport, Miss., Gates was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as one of three siblings in a working-class family. Her parents got divorced when she was about 10. Her mother is a registered nurse who retrained after being laid off as a public-school teacher. Her father is a small business owner who refurbishes mailroom equipment.

Gates attended an all-girls Catholic High School (Divine Savior Holy Angels), which she enjoyed despite being one of the few Black students there. “Of course there were some racism issues but I really appreciated the all-girl education,” she said.

She felt she could focus more on her education without distraction and said the experience gave her a lot of self-confidence.

Gates made the big move to the West Coast because she wanted to get out of the cold Midwest and take advantage of the greater opportunities California had to offer. She intended to study pre-med at the University of Southern California, but soon realized she didn’t want to do patient care. She figured she could help Black people’s health more by working in public policy.  So she ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in public policy and a masters degree in public administration at the college.

An avid cook, she is passionate about food sovereignty, which to her has to do with people having access to quality food. “All of us have a God-given right to access healthy and sustainable food,” she said.

Many Black people live in food deserts where convenience stores and liquor stores are easier to find than quality grocery stores, Gates said. The cost of produce and other quality food is high so “the working class can’t afford to eat healthy,” she said.

Gates discussed issues like these in 2021 on her Instagram page “Meals with Mae,” described as a “virtual think tank and advocacy hub seeking to find freedom through food.” She interviewed Fearing and others interested in food issues.

In her limited free time, Gates loves going to concerts; she is a huge fan of Beyonce. She also enjoys going to the beach (the reason she lives in LA) and reading.

Her biggest inspirations are her great-grandmother and her aunt because of their resilience, grit and perseverance. Her great-grandmother had only an eighth-grade education and worked as a maid at the Holiday Inn in Vicksburg, Miss. while helping her extended family of some 40 people. Gates said her great-grandmother raised her mother, paying for her college and getting her a car. She could always “make a way out of no way,” Gates said.

Gates’ aunt Angie Gates is the president and chief executive officer of DC Events, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia. She previously managed the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. and the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans and worked on D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign.

In the future, Mae Gates would like to continue to work in public policy, perhaps on an international level. She is attracted to public policy because it impacts so much from transportation to housing, food and recreation. Whatever she does, it will be people-centered, equity-centered, pro-Black and supportive of marginalized communities. “Everything is affected by policy,” she said. “I want to make that more accessible to average folks.”

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