In celebration of Women’s History Month, Edward Waters University proudly hosted the latest installment of the Stay Woke Distinguished Speaker Series featuring Renee Montgomery, a former WNBA player turned team owner and social justice activist. The event aimed to empower students to engage in social justice issues and utilize their platforms for positive change.

Amidst the vibrant atmosphere, Akyma David, a senior and Miss Edward Waters University, expressed the significance of having relatable speakers who demonstrate that success is attainable regardless of background. She highlighted the importance of Renee Montgomery’s presence, especially for Black women, and emphasized the value of Montgomery’s foundation, which supports women and athletes seeking to overcome challenging circumstances. 

David reflected, “As a student, having the chance to engage with and learn from activists and change-makers is truly significant. It demonstrates that anyone, regardless of their background, can achieve success. As an African American woman, it is empowering to see someone like her who can inspire and support us. Many individuals doubt their own capabilities, but my advice to current and future Edward Waters University students is to stay true to your own experiences and not let others’ experiences sway your perception of what your journey at our institution should be.”

Echoing David’s sentiments, Dr. Ivana Rich, Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics at EWU, emphasized the importance of representation and empowerment for young women. She hoped that Montgomery’s story would inspire students to recognize the power they hold in their respective spaces and encourage them to advocate for change. 

“To see a woman that has just triumphed and overcome her obstacles, and acquired ownership of a professional team, that is incredible,” Dr. Rich said. “I think it’s really important for our young women, and even for women at my level, to see what we can do. We can ascend to that level and ascend to that space.”

Renee Montgomery shared her personal journey from growing up on an HBCU campus to becoming a professional athlete and activist. She discussed the disparities she observed between resources available at predominantly white institutions versus HBCUs, sparking her interest in addressing systemic inequalities.

Montgomery emphasized the importance of a championship mentality rooted in consistency and attention to detail, traits she honed during her time as a collegiate athlete.

“My whole profession and my whole basketball upbringing was about being that undersized guard that belongs and so every day, the way that I kind of combated my doubts was I’m gonna just outwork you,” Montgomery said. “Maybe I don’t have the right body for this, maybe I can’t jump very high, but I bet you can’t outwork me, I’m gonna be ready every time.” 

Moreover, Montgomery’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season due to social justice concerns led to her involvement in activism and ultimately to her pursuit of team ownership. She emphasized the significance of speaking out and collaborating with like-minded individuals to effect change, showcasing the power of collective action.

“LeBron James and his group, they saw me opt out, and they understood what I was about and they wanted to help me get to where I was trying to go, which was the ownership seat,” Montgomery said. That’s why sometimes it does matter to first of all, stay woke, and it does matter to say what you feel and speak out. When you say it now somebody else that thinks the same way says ‘I’m with you, what do you need?’.”

In closing, the event concluded with a $1,000 check presentation that will serve as a scholarship fund for student-athlete Kyana Johnson, who is a part of the EWU Women’s Basketball team. Montgomery also left the students with a call to action for them to stay informed, stay engaged, and utilize their voices to advocate for social justice causes. Montgomery’s story served as a reminder that each individual possesses the potential to enact meaningful change, regardless of their circumstances.

“Young people look up to sports, there’s so much power in sports, and I hope that they leave here with the understanding that they have a platform they can use to advocate for change, and elevate our people in so many different spaces,” said Dr. Rich “I really hope that they leave with an overarching theme of just pure inspiration to go and want to make change and affect change in our world.”

As students left the event inspired and empowered, the Stay Woke Distinguished Speaker Series continues to serve as a platform for uplifting voices and fostering activism within the Edward Waters University community.

“Renee Montgomery’s presence at Edward Waters University serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring legacy of women’s leadership,” said Dr. A. Zachary Faison Jr, J.D. “Her story resonates deeply with our university’s ethos of empowerment and social responsibility. As we honor Women’s History Month, let us heed Montgomery’s call to action, leveraging our collective voice to advocate for positive change and cultivate a community where every individual thrives.”