From Injustice to Community Building Fawn Walker-Montgomery is working to create community in the Mon Valley through Take Action Mon Valley
In 2014, Mae Hudson, a grieving mother, attended a community meeting in Pittsburgh about unsolved homicides of Black and Brown people. Her son, Carlos, had been killed a few months before and his murder remained unsolved. The issue hit home for Hudson and her cousin, Fawn Walker-Montgomery, who at the time was serving as a council member for McKeesport. Both Hudson and Walker-Montgomery thought that their community needed a similar meeting, given that McKeesport, though just 12 miles away from Downtown Pittsburgh, seemed a world away from the city and the services there.
Hudson and Walker-Montgomery started hosting support group gatherings. They soon noticed that those who attended the meetings were not only McKeesport residents but from all over the Mon Valley.
These gatherings served as a space for Black and Brown residents of the Mon Valley to safely express their concerns and address community issues such as education, economic insecurity and violence. About two months later, these informal gatherings had transformed into Take Action Mon Valley, a nonprofit where people from communities outside Pittsburgh came together to organize for change. Take Action Mon Valley soon added a chapter in Duquesne and then created a youth chapter in 2016.
Walker-Montgomery continues to emphasize the importance of knowing the systemic structure in order to take back power and looking outside of Pittsburgh and deeper into the Mon Valley.
“We work to change systems by transforming the thinking, culture and consciousness of people and training participants to work across multiple systems at the same time. We seek to expand and build community,” says Walker-Montgomery. “Our vision is to combat all forms of violence through activism and community organizing.”
Walker-Montgomery calls upon her experience in social work and politics to organize community responses to violence.
“We were volunteers for four years and started by responding to violence when it occurred,” says Walker-Montgomery, who would bring in counselors to host trauma intervention meetings. “People didn’t realize the effect that trauma was having on them, how trauma shows up and how a lot of people walk around in trauma without understanding it.”
Through these meetings, she would help connect individuals to therapy and other services. Time and again, organizers found that community conversations inevitably turned to systemic racism and violence, particularly perpetrated by the police.
In late 2017, after more research and lived experiences, Take Action Mon Valley redefined community violence to include systemic and structural racism. With 1Hood Media as a fiscal sponsor, it applied for and received grants, including one from the Social Justice Fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation.
Then COVID-19 hit, presenting a major challenge for the organization’s in-person chapter meetings, which went on hiatus due to the difficulty many residents encountered in meeting online. The organization also began organizing food giveaways and deliveries across the Mon Valley.
Throughout election season, the organization hosted get-out-the-vote events, virtual video conferences and online community panel discussions. Through its youth chapter, Take Action Mon Valley hosts police accountability meetings to decry police presence in schools, the murder of Black children and to call for LGBTQIA+ rights. The organization is continuing to build its chapters back up after COVID and reinforcing its commitment with the community to build more engagement in the areas outside of Pittsburgh.
Thanks to an influx of grants, including those from the Foundation, Walker-Montgomery is now a full-time employee for the organization. With the help of three part-time staff members, she now spends more time working in the communities making sure that people have access to resources, and know how to take action on their own to raise consciousness about issues of race and injustice in the Mon Valley.
“Our vision is to continue to combat all forms of community violence through activism and community organizing. We are raising awareness in the community that they are the solution, not an organization. That they are the answer to their own problems,” says Walker-Montgomery.
To learn more about Take Action Mon Valley, visit its website and watch the video on its home page.