WNBA star turned team owner who found her voice

This is an excerpt from the book The Moment: Changemakers on why and how they joined the fight for social justiceEdited by Steve Fiffer and published by NewSouth Books in November. for the momentFiffer interviewed more than 35 activists of all ages, backgrounds and professions. Among them, Brian Stephenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Don Katz, founder of Audible.com; and award-winning author Edwidge Danticat. Previously featured here are excerpts featuring Jackson, MS Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Professor Ebony Lumumba, Zev Shapiro and Christian Picciolini.

Renee MontgomeryThe 35-year-old is the co-owner/Vice President of the Women’s National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Dream League – one of the few black women to be a major owner of a major sports franchise. A native of Charleston, West Virginia, she was a two-time All-American and National Champion at the University of Connecticut and a two-time WNBA All-Star Champion. In June 2020, she chose to exit the Dream’s WNBA season as a “catalyst” for social justice reform, creating a nonpartisan Remember the Third campaign, dedicated to political education and voter outreach in Georgia on November 3, 2020, United States Senate special elections. She retired from the game in 2021. In addition to being involved in Dream, she is a co-host of the podcast Montgomery & Co. and created Renee Montgomery Foundation.

After the killing of George Floyd and the protests started, I was sitting on the couch with my wife Serena, and we were looking at the national news that was talking about what was going on in Atlanta. I look out my window and look at the same pictures on the TV. I’m in Atlanta! I can see for myself what is happening. And it was portrayed in a way that I didn’t see or feel. People were trying to make it seem like there was negative energy here, that there was anger. But when I was at the protest, there was a sense of community. It felt like people were coming together for a cause.

It was a diverse group pulling together. It wasn’t just black people. It was black and brown. There were white people at the protest. It was a complete melting pot. and I thought, Wow, this is beautiful. I hope people come together for more causes more times. And for me, that was the transformation. I wanted to add my moment to the momentum. That’s why when I chose not to play in the Dream for the 2020 WNBA season, the tweet I sent was “Moments really equal momentum.” Because I’ve seen all these different people add up their moments. And I wanted to add my own too and join it.

Atlanta’s Renee Montgomery (21) shoots a free throw during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and Atlanta Dream on September 5, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Rich von Pepperstein/IKON Sportswire via Getty Images

For me, being active means taking the initiative with your voice or your actions and trying to make a change – whatever that change may be. I was raised by leaders, so I think that’s where it starts. My father played football at West Virginia State University, where he met my mother, who then became a professor at the same university for thirty years.

Since my parents met at HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]I grew up understanding the value and underfunding of HBCUs and how sometimes the system can’t do things equally or fairly. But I also grew up seeing black excellence at a very high rate and level.

My mom was in Detroit when the riots broke out there in 1967 and ’68. She and Dad both experienced things that I think will be a part of our lives. Date, not part of Present. So when they tell me these are the things that happened to them, you want those things to change at a certain point.

I never aspired to be an activist in the sense of, “Hey, I’m going to be an activist someday.” I didn’t even know in 2020 that what I was doing was an activist. People are starting to give me this rating. And I said What? For me, it was just talking about what I believe in. Talk about a problem you saw. Speak on behalf of people who may not be able to say it themselves.

When people started giving me this nickname, it made me want to study and learn more. I started watching different movies like Ava DuVernay’s Documentary 13The tenth. I started reading more about the past and talking to different people. I just wanted to understand more.

It was annoying that a lot of things today were so similar to what they were in the past. You think about how 2021 or 2022 will be, and you feel very advanced. Technology is growing at such a rapid rate. Then you look at certain areas in our society and you see that you Well, it’s pretty stagnant. We didn’t grow up in some areas. You certainly see the emergence of racism too much.

Growing up in the world of athletics, I was generally honest. When you’re a starting goalkeeper, you have to be honest because you are the voice on the field. And then, to take it a step further, when you get the title of captain, it’s not just the pitch, but the pitch off. You are the one who guides the team, making sure everyone stays on the right track. That’s why they gave you this nickname. I’ve been fortunate to be captain of the majority of the teams I’ve been on. I have always taken this role seriously and tried to speak up or tried to do what I considered right.

I never had to modify what I was saying. I am so grateful that I went to UConn, where we were able to express ourselves in the way we saw fit. I can remember when we learned that President Obama won in 2008. We were at Coach Orima’s house, and we celebrated. We were able to enjoy the fact that we had our first black president. It was exciting. So I never felt a hindrance to expressing how I felt. It was even more exciting in 2009, when we won the national championship and were able to meet him at the White House.

Atlanta owner Renee Montgomery interacts on the sidelines during the WNBA game between New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream on August 12, 2022 at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia.

Rich von Pepperstein/IKON Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ve always been able to live out loud. Even on the broadcast when I call a basketball game, I call it a certain style of my own. The companies I work for allowed me to do this. I’m allowed to be my authentic self, although you don’t see a lot of black women in team ownership and sports ownership. You don’t see it in those groups, but I’m allowed to live out loud and be my true self.

After dropping out of the season, she created the Remember The Third campaign, which was dedicated to political education and voter outreach in Georgia for the November 3 special elections for the United States Senate.

No matter what leadership role I take, I never want to feel like I’m telling people what to do. I want people to feel that they are doing what they want to do their way. That’s right at our company, Renee Montgomery Entertainment. It is a creative space. When you think about marketing and creativity, you need to empower people to make their own decisions.

When you think about team ownership and what that usually looks like, she’s not a black woman.

I took the same approach with the Remember the 3rd campaign. I don’t want to tell people who to vote for. It is your job to decide who to vote for. However, I would like to let you know the voting process, let you know who is available to vote, let you know their issues, and what they are in favor of. I also want you to know that local elections are just as important, if not more important, than national elections. Your local community, that’s what builds our entire national system.

Reverend Raphael Warnock eventually won the Senate race, defeating incumbent President Kelly Loeffler, who owned the last team she played on, the Atlanta Dream. Then he told ABC, “I think what you’ve been hearing from Renee Montgomery, is these times aren’t usual. She felt like she needed to focus on the moment and the rest of the women and the WNBA using that platform, in a way as athletes remember the names of Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and others who They stood at the Olympics to deliver a message to establish justice in the world.”

I couldn’t believe we had such a big impact. “To see the results, it was a surreal moment. The WNBA has a place in history,” she told ABC.

Some athletes feel comfortable speaking to the media. Some athletes feel comfortable expressing their personal opinions, and some are not. There is a lot that comes with using your voice for a reason. Not everyone will agree with how you feel. Not everyone will want you to talk about politics or social justice. They may just want you to play basketball. “Shut up and dodge,” right? They may just want their favorite athlete to be just their favorite athlete. They don’t want to know what their favorite athlete is feeling off the field. They just want to know that this is my favorite athlete and that they are good at basketball.

When you decide to speak your views or opinions out loud, you are putting yourself in a place to be judged. You put yourself in a hated place, because, as we know, everyone will have a difference of opinion. So it’s hard because you have fans from every different culture. You know that when you make a statement, it will piss off some fans. But if you understand that what you are saying is your moment and that it is needed at that time, then you will live with it.

In February 2021, Loeffler sold her stake in the team to a three-person investor group that included me. When you think about team ownership and what that usually looks like, she’s not a black woman. This was, for me, one of my main motivations. Acting is important! We talk about it all the time on my podcast, Montgomery and Company, because it’s so important that people can see what they want to be.

Many people think that creating their moments should be something great. Creating your Moment can start with just one Tweet or by volunteering.

For the podcast, [journalist] Jemele Hill had a vision for us to focus a bit. I thought it would be unique if we had black and brown women talking about business and culture as well as sports. This combination is not very common. It wasn’t that we were randomly talking about it. We had credentials. We were talking about the world we are in. We are in the basketball world, with team ownership; The world of venture capital. I am a general partner. Here we are, we are immersed. We are in the culture. And so what’s different is that we’re talking about the things we live and the world we live in.

There are not many of us there. That’s what we’re talking about and that’s what we’re leaning toward. We try to help people build and grow. We talk to business leaders, we talk to founders, we talk to professional athletes. We’ve had some great guests, including Stacey Abrams.

I always like to encourage people to follow their intuition – what it tells you and how you feel. If you feel that what you’re doing is right, you need to create your own moment. Many people think that creating their moments should be something great. Creating your Moment can start with just one Tweet or by volunteering. It could be anything. So if you’re making your moment and adding to the momentum, you’re doing something like anyone you might see on TV. Everyone’s moment matters.

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