In an environment that might otherwise stifle creativity, local poet Bethany Montgomery continues to create using her own skill and talent to advocate for the underrepresented.
Last week, Montgomery wrote “I Can’t Breathe,” a long-form, spoken-word piece dedicated to George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25 sparked worldwide protests.
“I say ‘We are mad / we are furious / they keep killing us / we keep filming it / the tension keeps building up / when is enough really going to be enough?’ It’s just factual,” she said. “People are sick and tired of being too tired and not being treated how they should be treated … I believe that I can be a voice for the people.”
Courtesy of Bethany Montgomery
Her work in Spokane’s poetry community through Power 2 the Poetry, a movement and performing arts organization she founded with A.J. Duke and Lynn Marie White, began just a few years ago.
An avid player and lifelong lover of basketball, Montgomery attended Eastern Washington University on a full athletic scholarship. But in 2016, after undergoing heart surgery, it became clear that basketball could no longer form the center of her life.
“Basketball was my outlet,” she said. “It was how I expressed myself, how I released my energy.”
While recovering, Montgomery spent two weeks in bed without any outside entertainment until one day, laying in bed with nothing to keep her mind occupied but her thoughts, she decided to write.
“I just started writing,” she said. “I wrote and wrote and wrote.” And the writing continued. As she slowly shared her work with family, friends and mentors, they encouraged her to share it far and wide. But she wasn’t ready.
Following graduation from EWU and an MBA, motivation to do something different started building until one day, driving between Seattle and Spokane, the flash of a plan came to her. Five hours of quiet and meditation later, the universe seemed to be shouting a single phrase at her over and over: power to the poetry.
Somehow, she knew the idea was what she had been waiting for, but beyond promoting poetry in her community, she didn’t know yet how it would manifest. Nonetheless, she knew she had just stumbled across the beginnings of her vocation.
Montgomery first came to activism in 2018 when she wrote a piece titled “Black Lives Matter.” Almost immediately after releasing it online, individuals and organizations in Spokane began reaching out to express the effect it had on them.
“That’s when I realized, ‘Hey, I have a voice,’ ” she said. Now, even when she isn’t advocating for others through her poetry, she dedicates her time to helping others do the same with Power 2 the Poetry.
Whether through after-school programs or open mics at Spokane Public Libraries, Montgomery believes her calling is to give power and voice back to the underrepresented, especially fellow artists of color. She has since moved back to Tacoma, her hometown, but the short flight from Sea-Tac to GEG still enables her to visit Spokane often.
“I’m a poet, an artist, an activist,” she said, explaining that the force of these labels all flowed toward the same goal: Power 2 the Poetry.
She believes there is still a lot of room for cultural growth, but a large number of individuals and organizations in Spokane – including Sandra Williams, editor of the Black Lens, attorney Dennis Cronin’s advocacy work in local courts and East Central’s soon-to-open Carl Maxey Center – encourage her to hope and keep writing.
To fellow artists of color, whether starting out or working to improve their own expression, Montgomery had a few words of advice: “Just be you. It’s that simple.”
A full-length recorded recitation of “I Can’t Breathe,” accompanied by trumpeter Kendan Worley, is available on Montgomery’s Instagram account @power2thepoetry; more recordings of Montgomery’s work are available at soundcloud.com/power2thepoetry.
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