Communication pro applies her skills to food justice

Younger generations are perennially rich with promise, which has prompted the old quip, “The young should be sued for breach of promise.” Not so, says one Tess Montgomery.

Newly 25 as of November, Montgomery is well on her way to realizing her potential, having started what seems to be a strong career in a field as solidly viable as marketing technology and social media, which are at the cutting edge, reaching international recipients as readily as local. Montgomery has made those tools her specialty. Further acquitting herself as a true, indeed singular, achiever, she applies her acumen to grassroots community activism.

“We’re on the brink of another Black consciousness movement,” she says. “We’re starting to come awake to a lot of the systems that’re in place to keep us down. How it doesn’t have to be that way. How [it] was explicitly made to be this way to be a struggle.”

Tess Montgomery (Photo courtesy of Tess Montgomery)

Her principal focus — eating habits — is one that generally escapes broad notice but quite arguably should be front and center. After all, as goes the health of a people, so goes their well-being. Dick Gregory certainly knew it, and it’s far from lost on Montgomery.

Toward this end, she is communications administrator at North Minneapolis-based Appetite For Change (appetiteforchangemn.org), which uses food as a vehicle for health, wealth and social change, something she sees as a vital imperative.

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My North Market is helping dismantle the food desert in North Minneapolis by providing access to nutritious, affordable food for Northsiders and in a beautiful new establishment.

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She notes that food deserts, where there is a lack of “access to fresh, organic [nutrition],” are a serious concern here and around the nation. “In North Minneapolis, specifically, there is a Cub Foods on Broadway and an ALDI on Lowry. And on Broadway, from the freeway down the three-mile strip to Robbinsdale, there are 38 fast-food places — processed, GMO. Not good for you at all.”

There also convenience stores at just about every other corner selling shelves and racks of junk food. “The question is, ‘Are we eating this food because we like it or because it’s what’s made available to us?’”

Whether it’s greasy fries, chitlin’ and fatback, held over from plantation table scraps generations ago, or moms who were never taught any better than to ignorantly feed their kids barbecue potato chips and Kool-Aid for breakfast, addressing the issue calls for raised consciousness regarding what you put in your body. Counteracting ingrained behavior makes for hard work, but Montgomery sees progress.

“A lot more people are becoming aware of circumstance and how it doesn’t have to be that way.” How said circumstance is part of what she calls a “capitalist, supremacy structure.” That said, it’s not necessarily about putting McDonald’s, Burger King or anyone else out of business. It’s about providing an alternative in consumers’ best interests.

Enter, as Montgomery urges, My North Market at 4414 Humboldt Avenue. She attests, “I and so many others are excited about My North Market, because before its opening, people in [that] area of North Minneapolis had to go to the surrounding suburbs to access a grocery store, or they could go all the way to the lows and go to Cubs, So Low, or ALDI. My North Market is helping dismantle the food desert in North Minneapolis by providing access to nutritious, affordable food for Northsiders and in a beautiful new establishment.

“They have a butcher stop where you can get fresh cuts of meat seasoned in-house, a pharmacy and wellness center and community room to meet and hold events. They are planning to offer weekly exercise classes with Noir Fitness.”

“Before North Market there was a Kowalski’s and then a SuperValu,” Montgomery continues, “but that was…over 10 years ago. Since then it’s been a vacant lot, and now we have this beautiful new community-led grocery store next to the new library. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to what used to be there. Northsiders deserve [this].”

When not fighting the fight for food group justice, Montgomery still works on social change as marketing director for the public forum More Than A Single Story, engaging communities to effect cross-cultural communication.

Pursuing her passion for community empowerment, she enjoys also acting in concert with forum founder Carolyn Holbrook, her grandmother. “We work well together. I was [on many] panels, attending the first few when it was basically all women — African women,” until Montgomery got the idea to expand to be cross-cultural.

“I’ve seen it from the beginning, understand the vision, what she’s wanted, what she’s going for. So I’m excited to share the message and help coordinate these events with really cool powerhouses around the city — people like David Mura, who curates some of the panels, Arleta Little; Bao Phi; up and coming writer, Keno Evol. The age difference between them affords, as it were, the best of both worlds.

Montgomery excels at communication technology: “I bring that expertise.” That’s something of an understatement, maintaining Appetite For Change’s online platforms, including their website, and, at Krista Tippett’s Peabody Award-winning On Being (KTPP), supporting promotion for Tippet’s best-seller Becoming Wise. She developed group sales and marketing strategy at the Iowa Events Center.

In 2015, Montgomery graduated from Drake University in Des Moines with an advertising account management degree. Call it a one-two combination across generations: Holbrook fosters arts as activism and Montgomery gets the word out. “So [that we’ll] have a brand, a theme, one source of information for all our events. [The website] is coming along.” Pursuant to which, More Than A Single Story is awaiting word on a grant.

North Minneapolis, more often not, bears the stigma of dead-end ghetto life characterized by thugs and drugs. By no means on the outskirts of civilization itself, the locale is also home to such progress as Appetite For Change and My North Market.

As well as socially committed 20-somethings like Tess Montgomery.

 

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403