Renee Montgomery encourages voting, but sees a bigger picture

Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery (21) reacts during the first half June 19, 2019, against the Indiana Fever at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)
Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery (21) reacts during the first half June 19, 2019, against the Indiana Fever at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

The moment Renee Montgomery hit send on her tweet announcing her decision to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season, she realized she didn’t really have a plan.

Montgomery knew being active in the racial-justice movement was more important to her than playing basketball, at least temporarily. What she didn’t know was how she was going to help. Less than a week later, someone involved with LeBron James' More Than a Vote organization reached out. They wanted Montgomery to be a part of it.

“That was definitely a springboard for me,” Montgomery said. “When I opted out, I didn’t have plans formulated or know exactly what I was going to do. Them reaching out, to me helped me see the different ways that other athletes are going about it.”

Voting never was a question in Montgomery’s house growing up. Her parents voted in every election, and Montgomery registered to vote as soon as she was eligible. She’s voted ever since.

“Voting is where you start,” Montgomery said. “A lot of people understand that it’s not where we finish, but it needs to be a part of just our citizenship where we understand that yes, of course we’re going to vote. Not are we or aren’t we? Of course we’re gonna vote. That’s phase one. There’s so many different things we need to do, but that is phase one. That’s why it’s important.”

Since moving to Atlanta when she signed with the Dream as a free agent in 2017, Montgomery has been active in Georgia’s elections, which raised her awareness about Georgia’s history of voter suppression. More Than a Vote focuses heavily on combating voter suppression, so Montgomery felt it was a natural fit for her to work with them.

And Montgomery’s activism work doesn’t stop at voting. She’s committed to raise $3 million for Morris Brown College to help it regain its accreditation. Both of Montgomery’s parents attended historically Black colleges and her mom, Bertlela, was a professor at an HBCU. Building up the HBCU community is important to Montgomery, she said, and she knew Morris Brown needed help.

“I grew up in the HBCU community," Montgomery said. “When I saw how vibrant it is and how amazing it is, I want it to thrive. That was my main thought process. There’s a lot of schools taking some hits, and we all know that HBCUs are already underfunded. ... (Morris Brown is) back on the up-and-up, and they’re working toward getting back to where they were before. I love to be an advocate for them and talk about them overcoming this obstacle and where they are now.”

Immediately after opting out of the season in June, Montgomery appeared on countless media outlets all over the world to explain her decision and talk about why focusing on social justice was important to her. She thought the number of media requests would slow, but it never really did.

Now, Montgomery sees it as a blessing that she’s been so busy. It keeps her mind off missing basketball. This summer was the first time in 10 years that she hasn’t played a WNBA game, and it was the first season she’s missed since she was a kid.

“It was bizarre,” Montgomery said. “I had to catch myself in the beginning because I was still watching games as if I was mentally scouting to play the teams and different things like that. I wasn’t just enjoying the game as a fan, I was scouting. I realized that’s just how I watch basketball.”

When Montgomery announced her decision to opt out, she stated that she would return to basketball in 2021. Montgomery calls her season away from basketball a timeout — it doesn’t indicate that she’s planning to retire from the sport.

Though it doesn’t appear that Montgomery will return to the Dream, she plans to be back in the WNBA. Sitting out this season and focusing on activism was important to her, but so is basketball.

“I wanted to be a part of the positive change going on,” Montgomery said. “I knew that this moment was going to be special. Who could’ve predicted how special it was going to be? None of us. There’s just a lot of things happening in America right now and for the better. There’s some things happening that aren’t great, but there’s a lot of great things happening. I’m just excited to have been able to be a part of all of this.”

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