At TPT, we are proud of our staff and how involved they are in our community. We are an organization that strives to provide educational programming for everyone, and we are glad we have staff members who value this in their day-to-day lives. For this month’s installment of Get to Know Us we talked with TPT colleagues Kevin Yang and Tess Montgomery who are both featured voices in the popular anthology We Are Meant to Rise by Carolyn Holbrook and David Mura.
The book is described as, “A brilliant and rich gathering of voices on the American experience of this past year and beyond, from Indigenous writers and writers of color from Minnesota.
Here Indigenous writers and writers of color bear witness to one of the most unsettling years in U.S. history. Essays and poems vividly reflect the traumas we endured in 2020, beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic, deepened by the blatant murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and the uprisings that immersed our city into the epicenter of worldwide demands for justice.”
We sat down with Kevin and Tess to talk about how they got involved with this book and their time working at TPT. Read on:
Hi Tess and Kevin. Thanks for sitting down with us! What are both your roles and how long have you been at TPT?
TM (Tess Montgomery): I’ve been at TPT about three years as a Digital Marketing Specialist.
KY (Kevin Yang): I’m currently an Education Engagement Specialist but started at TPT in a grant-funded role for the project Moving Lives. I’ve been here about two and a half years.
You were both featured in We Are Meant to Rise – can you tell us more about the book and how you got involved?
TM: Sure! We Are Meant to Rise is an anthology featuring different BIPOC voices and their response to COVID-19 and the uprising in Minneapolis.
Carolyn Holbrok is actually my grandmother but before this started, I had been working on a fellowship through the Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy where I was writing about financial trauma that can be prevalent in Black communities. I had been interviewing different people and community organizations gathering information about financial literacy, Black people’s relationships to financial literacy, historic financial trauma and how it presents itself today.
Kenya McKnight-Ahad was my mentor and I wrote a piece for the Minnesota’s Women’s press that’d been getting some traction in the community. Once the topic sort of caught on fire, I was asked to be a part of a few panels around financial literacy and was asked to write a piece for the Women’s Press.
I specifically talked about financial trauma during COVID and how, in a lot of ways, the panic that was setting in was something we had already felt everyday. A lot of people in my community didn’t have money to go hoard supplies even before March of 2020 and we knew how to rely on others to get by. We were used to using community mutual aid. We knew how to utilize our resources and go to a food shelf or find other ways to get by. We watched the rest of the world panic-buy but we knew we’d be okay by relying on our community.
I also had done a lot of research talking to single women, families and places that provide financial literacy. Everything is just so layered, there are barriers to loans, interest rates and difficulties trying to navigate the whole system. It felt like there’s stopped progression at every level.
KY: I actually met Carolyn when I was at Hamline. She was my creative writing professor. I’ve actually been doing spoken word poetry for about 10 years and she was an important figure in my life. After I graduated, she invited me to come back to speak on a panel for her series More Than a Single Story. We had a great conversation and from there she asked me to be a part of the book.
Even prior to the pandemic, I had a lot of anxiety and spoke about how it formed a place in my life. It became a part of the art I was creating and I feel lucky to have met people in my community who help me make that art come to life.
What has your experience been since the book was published? Have you heard back from the community?
KY: I’ve been invited to a couple of panel conversations and have found it extremely powerful to hear from other writers, and how they’ve approached the past couple of years. Whether they’re writing poetry, short stories, or other kinds of writing, it’s allowed me to be able to reflect more on everything that’s happened.
I think that history told through art is a big part of my traditions and has been a really cool was to connect with and emphasize with others in the struggles we’ve found in the past two years.
TM: I’ve had quite a number of people reaching out to my grandma, myself and the publishers of the book since it came out. Mostly people telling me about how much the story has resonated with them and how much they’ve thought about it.
I was worried that that people might not resonate and was feeling like I maybe wasn’t the right person to share this story but it’s been great to get overwhelmingly positive feedback. I’ve gotten a lot of comments about how to navigate a more balanced and sustainable life and how other people are struggling with this too.
I definitely had a bit of imposter syndrome but it’s been really cool hearing from Black women specifically who want to have these conversations about financial literacy with big financial institutions like US Bank and Wells Fargo. There’s this sense that we can all relate to these feelings.
Do you have any recommendations for further reading/resources if viewers have already picked up this book?
KY: Well obviously I hope that people pick up the anthology, but I would also recommend What We Hunger For by Sun Yung Shin It’s a recipe book that reflects on the author’s experience and their life as a refugee and immigrant. It also has similar themes to Hippocrate’s Café, a film TPT did with University of Minnesota Medical School’s Center for the Art of Medicine.
TM: I would look into the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance and the work of Kenya McKnight-Ahad – she was my mentor and is great about talking about these issues on a deeper level and being a Black woman and a breadwinner. Also Dr. Brittany Lewis and the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. She’s been super helpful in helping me navigate this process and bringing knowledge to my thoughts.
What’s your favorite part about working at TPT?
TM: I would say the opportunity to work with various communities and uplift their work and their voices.
KY: I love working with people who are creative. Both people who make creative media and are creative problem solvers. I think public media has a deep impact on our society and really brings people together. I’m glad I get to work with these people.
If you’re interested in purchasing We Are Meant to Rise you can find it on the University of Minnesota press’ website.
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