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Every month, the Montana Innocence Project highlights the important work of like-minded organizations. This month, we are highlighting EmpowerMT. Both of our organizations work to advance equity and inclusion in Montana. MTIP achieves this by promoting a more just criminal legal system, and EmpowerMT works to educate youth and adults across the state about how to reduce oppression in all areas of their communities.

EmpowerMT Logo (Photo courtesy of EmpowerMT)

What is your organization’s mission?

EmpowerMT creates a more just and inclusive society by developing youth and adult leaders who work to end mistreatment, correct systemic inequalities, and strengthen communities across Montana. EmpowerMT works with institutions and communities to correct injustices, ensuring all people have the opportunity to thrive without the risk of oppression.

How does your organization achieve its mission?

EmpowerMT is a multi-generation and multi-issue organization, developing curriculum and providing consultations for youth and adults across the state of Montana that reduce oppression and advance equity across the state. EmpowerMT has three central areas of work that include 1) Youth and Schools; 2) Business and Organizations, and 3) Community. By focusing on these three areas, we believe that we holistically create just and equitable change throughout our communities.

Is there anything specific that your organization is working on right now that you would like to highlight?

In October we have a collaboration project with the University of Montana School of Theater and Dance Social Justice Theater Class and playwright Gregory Hinton called Verbatim: Celebrating Resilience, which focuses on historical and contemporary storytelling surrounding LGBTQ+ experience in Montana. The first part will focus on Gregory’s play “Diversity Day” which features direct testimony from Missoula’s decision to expand our Non-Discrimination Ordinance in 2010 to include protections based on gender expression and sexual identity. The Social Justice Theater class will create short performance pieces based on interviews with people who testified on the Missoula NDO in 2010 and those that spoke out against newly adopted legislation at the state level to discriminate against trans youth and athletes and Missoula’s decision to reject those state bans.

Empowering Youth Leadership Institute (Photo courtesy of EmpowerMT)

Additionally, this is the second year of our new ABY (Association of BIPOC Youth) after-school club. This affinity group offers BIPOC youth the opportunity to connect with peers, learn a more racially diverse and inclusive history, and organize towards racial equity and justice. This joins our successful LGBTQ+ affinity groups, created in 2010, that offer a similar space for LGBTQ+ youth to connect and organize on issues of gender justice. These LGBTQ+ affinity groups were crucial to passing Missoula’s NDO in 2010 and led the creation of Missoula’s Rainbow Crosswalk in 2018.

Does your organization have any specific achievements that you would like to highlight?

EmpowerMT was established in 1998 as NCBI Missoula in reaction to the glaring absence of anti-oppression organizations in Montana working to end systemic racism, homophobia, and discrimination. Through those 23 years, EmpowerMT has been influential in changing overall attitudes and reforming state and local laws and institutions. In 2010, our LGBTQ+ youth leaders came together to expand Missoula’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Since then, our LGBTQ+ youth leaders have been active in speaking out against a barrage of anti-trans legislation at the state level and have been successful in defeating most of these attempts, even in the face of a largely hostile legislature towards trans rights and autonomy. In addition to coordinating Montana’s GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) Network, our LGBTQ+ youth leaders also created Montana’s first Rainbow Crosswalk in Missoula in 2018. Many of our youth leaders have also made progress on adapting school district curriculum and policies to be more inclusive to LGBTQ+ and BIPOC. Most recently our BIPOC youth have been participating in Missoula County Public Schools IVALUE committee that is working to foster more Diversity Equity and Inclusion in Missoula’s schools. Additionally, EmpowerMT also served as a facilitator for many Missoula city-wide decisions including the relocation of our shelter for individuals experiencing houselessness (the Poverello Center), and helping community and students to process the overwhelming experiences of sexual assault at the University of Montana.

How can people support your work?

Learning more through our social media accounts and on our website. Signing up for virtual and in-person skill-building we offer to the community or participating in Missoula’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Diversity Day (2nd Saturday in April) events. You can request skill-building for your organization or school by emailing info@empowermt.org. We typically offer skill-building focused on Creating Inclusive Work & Service Environments, Communicating Cross-Culturally, and Racial Equity Access Diversity Inclusion (READI) skill-building and consultations. Most importantly, we always accept donations at empowermt.org/donate/

You can learn more about EmpowerMT’s work on their website at empowermt.org, and you can locate opportunities for programming or volunteering on our link tree at linktr.ee/empower_mt/. You can also follow them on social at @empowermt on Facebook and @empower_mt on Instagram.