Life continues to offer hills and valleys, Elizabeth Montgomery said last week. Her new job as social media editor of Downtown Phoenix, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes city development, was so far a very pleasant hill.
A recent stint at the Arizona Republic was more of a valley.
“I moved here in 2018 to be a social media specialist at the Republic,” she said. “After six months they moved me to community relations where I was supposed to produce events for the paper, which I had no experience in. I wanted to write.”
Her responsibilities included running the paper’s popular Arizona Storytellers series. She’s proud of the diversity she brought to that project, which routinely sold out every performance. The Faces of Arizona series, which profiled locals from diverse communities, is another project Montgomery launched.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Montgomery used to tag along with her dad, a broadcast journalist who worked for CNN. “I’d go to work with him to get away from home,” she recalled. “My home life was not the best. But I was embraced by the people in the newsroom. I was like, ‘Oh, I want to be one of these people, I want to do this.’ I started writing journals and I was such a nerd. I would talk to people my dad knew at the Atlanta Journal Constitution about how to get a job in journalism.”
But then her life headed south again. “My mom put me out. I came home and there was all my stuff in bags outside the garage. I was 18, and it was time to go.”
Montgomery lived in her car for three years. She’d only begun talking about her homelessness these last few years, more than a decade after her mother booted her. When she discovered that Gannett was paying her tens of thousands of dollars less than people with less experience, she decided she’d kept quiet about her life for too long. She went public with her complaint against Gannett.
“It was scary and something you’re not supposed to do, talk about your employer that way while you’re working for them. But I had asked for a raise and been denied.”
Montgomery wanted, she said, for people to see that being underpaid and discriminated against was real.
“I knew other Black women who felt undervalued and were underpaid, and I saw them walk off without a job, just to go somewhere to feel valued. We shouldn’t have to do that to feel valued and be paid fairly.”
When she posted her bank statement on Facebook, it was because she wanted people to see that she had $34 to her name. Friends called to tell her that showing off her poverty was a lousy idea. “I couldn’t struggle in silence,” she explained. “I wanted people to know everything was not great, and why this was happening to me and to other people. The last time I felt that bad was when I was homeless.”
She’s not sure where the bravery to publicly criticize her employer came from. “I’m still figuring that out. It’s weird because when I’m brave I don’t think about being brave, I think about how I’m gonna tell people this. I’m here on this earth to do something and I can’t sit in silence and not say anything. I did that for so long when I was homeless. I didn’t ask for help, I kind of made my own way in silence and I am done doing that.”
Although her time at the Republic was stressful, Montgomery knows the stories she told there have helped others. When she wrote about being a homeless college student, she heard from people who were living on the streets themselves. Her email box filled up after she published an award-winning essay about her crummy relationship with her mother.
“People keep telling me how brave that all was,” she said of her stint at the local daily. “But it didn’t feel like bravery. Sometimes I just thought, ‘I’m crazy to say these things.’ But in the end I was glad I did.”