Wyjuana Montgomery is the founder of N.O. F.E.A.R., an Oklahoma City-based organization focused on empowering teen girls around the world by helping them develop a “mindset for greatness with real-life experiences and solutions.”
The organization developed out of Montgomery’s award-winning 2016 book Bold, Brave and Courageous: A NO FEAR Success Guide for Teen Girls. Before that, she founded Reach Forward, a program providing one-on-one and group mentorship events for youth.
In February, Montgomery joined the board of Community Strategies, the governing entity of Epic Charter Schools. Between its two charter schools, Epic stands as the largest public school district in the state but has been in upheaval after a state audit released in October 2020 found that Epic owed the state millions of dollars.
Originally from Seattle, Montgomery moved to OKC in 2008 to help launch the community relations department for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
A wife of 22 years, a mother, and a mentor to many, Montgomery stays active in her community through service on various boards and committees.
In this Q&A, Montgomery answers questions about her work empowering young women. The following conversation has been edited lightly for clarity and style.
Tell us about your life in Seattle and your move to Oklahoma City.
Seattle is home where my entire maternal side lives and is a beautiful place that I love to soak in when I return to visit. I always eat at Ivar’s, get fresh sugar and cinnamon mini donuts at Pike Place Market along with MarketSpice Tea and maybe a fresh salmon to bring back to OKC.
How did you come to create Project N.O. F.E.A.R.? How do you use the program to help young women develop and keep the right mindset?
Girls have always liked to talk to me and hang around me, which led to me writing Bold Brave and Courageous: A NO FEAR Success Guide for Teen Girls. After a few years of doing book talks and workshops based on the concepts explored in the book, I realized it was much more than a book, but a teen girl mindset transformation program. Thus, Project N.O. F.E.A.R., a six to eight week-long teen girl mindset program, complete with a full curriculum, was born. I use the program to help teen girls get to the positive, healthy mindset that is needed to make the right choices to help them succeed in life.
You joined the Epic Charter Schools board in February, knowing the turbulence they were going through. Tell me about your decision to join the board? How have board relations been over the past eight months, and what do you have to say to those who may still be skeptical of Epic?
I decided to join the board because the school was personally a godsend for my son when his traditional school messed up his schedule in a way that wouldn’t permit him to graduate on time. I saw the potential firsthand of what Epic can do for students and am proud to provide the board with my laser focus on doing what I can to set up the school and students for success.
When it comes to empowering young women, what is the most important thing you express to them? What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to reveal to the young people you work with?
The most important thing I express is that it’s not how you start but how you finish that matters most. We cannot control the family and environment we are born into, but we can control the decisions we make and the path we take later in life.
The hardest thing I’ve had to reveal is talking about my own story of rising above sexual molestation as a tween and my personal journey to move beyond the shame and guilt associated with it.
How did you come to create Reach Forward in 2014? How do you use mentorship to empower young people?
Reach Forward was the precursor to what is now my 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Reach Forward Foundation, a youth mentorship program for young women and young men in grades 6-12.
I first created Reach Forward in 2014 because I was already doing the community work informally with friends and family, volunteering as needed. The one-on-one mentoring empowered those specific young women in clear and direct ways. I helped them navigate home life, social and academic situations in school, land their first after-school jobs, apply to college and more.
My very first Oklahoma mentee graduated from college this year, now works for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and owns her own luxury picnic business, of which I was just a customer, for my birthday in early September.
I provided group mentoring, and still do, through special events including the annual NO FEAR Ladies Conference (which ran from 2014 to 2020, and I may reboot it in the future) and smaller gatherings throughout the year based around specific life skills areas.
In your 2016 book, Bold, Brave and Courageous, how were you able to connect your life stories to life lessons for young women? How are you using the book to teach young women today?
Each chapter opens up with a personal story about myself that spotlights the NO FEAR element of focus in that chapter.
N = Never let anyone tell you what you cannot do.
O = Open your mind to the possibility of your greatness.
F = Fight for what you want.
E = Expose yourself to new things.
A = Act on opportunities to reach forward.
R = Reach forward.
Then I follow up with practical, common-sense wisdom and advice like I would share with my own daughter.
The book is still educating girls all across the world as schools, school districts and a host of community-based organizations have adopted it as a teaching tool to empower young women. I travel and speak using the tenets of Bold Brave and Courageous and share my personal experiences to empower young women as well.
How do you stay active in your community? What advice would you give to others on how to do the same?
I work on behalf of causes and organizations that I believe in. Therefore, I am active in my sorority (Delta Sigma Theta), a local school board, various school and district level advisory committees as well as the Central Oklahoma Workforce Innovation Board Teen Services Advisory Committee.
My famous saying is, “I do what I can for the people.” I stay as involved as I can without overwhelming myself and taking on more than I can give solid effort toward. I would advise others to also take an active interest in your community so you can impact the positive change you want to see.
What’s your favorite place you’ve visited? Best memory?
My favorite place to visit was Gaborone, Botswana. As an African-American, it is magical to visit any country in the Motherland. It felt as if I were coming home, in a sense.
My best memory was standing proudly in the crowd in Washington, DC, as Barack Obama was sworn in as president with his beautiful family alongside him. At that moment, I felt the weight of what my ancestors experienced, being beaten and sometimes even killed, just for trying to vote.
What are some things that you have learned personally through your work?
Every teen girl really does want guidance and discipline. True connection is made by being authentic and transparent, not pretending that you have always been perfect and know everything because you are an adult. Everything I have experienced in life, good or bad, was necessary to make me who I am today.