Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Monday, March 8, 2010

Akoo Jeans Model, Dawn Montgomery, speaks to Genmaspeaks about Controversy

Everyone knows I love Twitter. One of my favorite folks on the social media site is Dawn Montgomery, a fashion model and writer. Dawn and I have known each other for over a year and have talked often about working together to do a charity fashion show for a few of my favorite non-profits here in Nashville.

I was drawn to Dawn because of her Twitter name, @MississippiDawn. My Twitter followers and Tennessee Tribune readers know I am from Mississippi and often share stories about my hometown. Dawn and I have endless Tweet streams catching up on all things in the Magnolia State. Born and raised in Hattiesburg, Miss., Dawn is attending college in Atlanta. Dawn is fast becoming one of hottest urban models in the U.S. Dawn not only models and writes but she also is a community activists, patron of the arts, and raising a young son. She is the first to arrive and last to leave, I am told by many. The community that she loves dearly, loves her back and it shows by the number of friends who thank her daily for endless deeds done out of the kindness of her heart.

Last week, Dawn sent me links to an ad campaign with Akoo Jeans, a clothing line by rapper T.I. I opened the links, saw Dawn’s face and thought, “She has landed another big job.” A few minutes later, Dawn sent me several more links with the same picture and asked, “Have you read this?” This was the Dawn that I love, always seeking advice and critique no matter how big the contract. It took me a few minutes to realize Dawn’s photo Akoo Jeans shoot was being blogged about around the country. Dawn’s Akoo billboard ad was asked to be removed by the Newark, New Jersey community and the Mayor Cory Booker for obscenity. Isn’t New Jersey the home of the Jersey Shores Reality TV Show that is watched and hate by millions? Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker was cutting a shine over a billboard because it was not a good image of the community. Within 24 hours, Dawn’s face was all over cable news. Wow, someone I knew was in the middle of mayhem and mess. On Twitter @mississippiDawn and Akoo were trending topics.

I called Dawn to find out what were her A, B, and C plans. Dawn who is media smart hired a publicist who had her responding to the crisis within a day. She was interviewed by Essence to address the controversy, the sexual content of the ad and the media bias towards urban vs. mainstream models. Being from Mississippi, Dawn and I conversed the way two Divas from the country do...straight to the point. I asked Dawn without any tack as soon as she said hello, “Are you neckit?” (You say it like it is spelled). She responded in true Diva dramatics, “You know me better than that!”

With that cleared up and out of the way, here’s Dawn’s exclusive interview with and The Tennessee Tribune.

Dawn, since I know you personally and most of our readers don’t, we are going to discuss the controversy first.

GSH: What was the mayhem and mess about?
Montgomery: The Akoo Billboard Ad featured me pulling downwards on a gentleman's pants. Newark, NJ's Mayor and citizens were upset at the sexually suggestive pose, and viewers felt as if this was not a great representation of African-Americans.

GSH: Were you surprised at the response from the community?
Montgomery: Yes, I was surprised at the response from the community. In the mainstream modeling industry, there are clothing ads (Calvin Klein, Abercombie & Fitch, Victoria's Secret) that market sexually suggestive ads and are rarely talked about or addressed in the media.

GSH: How long have you been modeling and was this the first time you faced this type of controversy?
Montgomery: This was the first time I faced controversy in my modeling career, and I have been modeling for 6 years. I do not like negativity, so I am turning this into something positive. In this Industry I have to make choices daily. I always think of my FAMILY when making decisions, and my morals & values guide my decision-making.

GSH: Would you do it again?
Montgomery: Would I do it again? Yes. I am a model and my job is to give the client what they ask for. The representatives from Akoo Clothing line & the photographer that shot the Ad Campaign discussed with me what they were looking for and showed me their vision images. I was allowed to do what made me feel comfortable in comparison to the vision images, and I did just that. I will be more mindful of my surroundings, because for some of my family members the gentleman's hand on my head struck a nerve with them. My family understood my decision and they support me. As long as I am able to have their support and show my family the images then I can continue to do my job.

Dawn, you imitated a toned down version of a Calvin Klein ad. You decided how you wanted to interpret the Calvin Klein Ad and through this controversy helped Akoo Jeans become a household name in a matter of days. Their marketing worked and you have become one of the most recognized faces in America. Now, that we addressed the madness, let’s talk about the Dawn Montgomery who is fierce about her love of family and helping others in your community.

GSH: What makes you passionate about making a difference with your life?
Montgomery: My upbringing makes me passionate about making a difference. I was raised around strong women that no matter what they lacked in their lives, they continued to help others. It is hard to help someone else when you know that you may not have what you want in life, but that drives me to do more.

GSH: When did you decided that THIS (your activism) is IT (needed now)?
Montgomery: Currently I am still trying to figure out what this is. I have always had a passion for making my voice heard in my community by volunteering and spreading the word about needed change. I currently use my Modeling & Writing Careers as ways of communicating how I feel about what is going on in my community today.

GSH: What woman has made a significance difference in your life?
Montgomery: My late grandmother, Dr. Rev. Gertie Smiley, made a huge difference in my life. When she was battling Breast Cancer she showed me how to be strong until the very end of your life. My grandmother always told me that every decision I made will affect someone close to me & I have to make good decisions daily. She was a community activist and she always spoke up when she needed to be heard. All of the women in my family are just like her, but she was so charismatic.

GSH: Could you share more about your family…anything you want me to know?
Montgomery: My grandmother's battle with Breast Cancer and death changed my life. My son was born a year later, and then 2 months after his birth Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi. I am a single mother, and God has blessed me with an amazing support system of family members and friends. I have a mental illness, Bipolar/Manic Disorder, and I deal with this daily.

GSH: If you could change one thing today, what would that be?
Montgomery: I would not change anything. My days are difficult, but through the grace of God I make it through each day.

GSH: What advice do you give to other young women about following their dreams?
Montgomery: The advice I would give to other young women about following their dreams: RESEARCH! There is someone out there that has the career you want and you can learn a lot from researching how they got there. You will not travel in the same lane that they are in, but God created a lane just for you. I did not come into this industry naive. I learned how to put my portfolio together and set goals consistently for my career. Know the path you want to take, and understand that sometimes you have to walk that path alone. Learn what works best for you and master that. My late grandmother, mother, and aunt have all taught me these things that truly work for me today.

GSH: What are your future goals?
Montgomery: Next endeavors are; Graduating from Oglethorpe either in the Fall of 2010 or Spring of 2011, Getting my son started on the right path with his education as he enters Kindergarten (I am excited!), and I really want to have the opportunity of hosting a Sports Talk show either on radio or television. I am a huge College Football fan, and I love all sports.

Photo Credits:
Allen Cooley
Marion Designs
Mays Photography
20/20 Photography
Dawn Montgomery Agent
Dawn was recently photographed for Savoy Magazine for the current issue and interviewed by me for

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