Hey there! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello! My name is Akilah Lane and I live in Helena, Montana with my husband and two children. We’ve lived here for a little over 2.5 years as a family and my husband was born and raised in Helena. I grew up in lovely Tacoma, Washington (where all of my family still resides) and lived up and down the West Coast before moving to Helena.
What’s it like being an African American woman moving to a place that is predominately white? How would you describe your experiences living here?
Talking about race, racial/cultural identity and race relations is always difficult and can be confusing. The lack of diversity in Helena makes it harder for me to feel comfortable having conversations about race with most people that I meet here. I recognize that minority people are not a monolith and so, each person’s experience is unique and different. For me, moving to Montana was very difficult and it took me a long time to adjust. The single most difficult aspect of living in Montana has been navigating the complete lack of diversity and the ramifications/implications that go along with that fact. I also worry about my children growing up and never seeing diversity where they live. Not only do I dislike standing out based solely on my race, but I also feel less safe and more vulnerable. With so few other minorities, I feel like an easy target to crazy racist people.
There are many forms of racism beyond outright aggressive displays of hostility and I have witnessed both micro-aggression and hostility based on racism here. In Montana I’ve experienced more openly aggressive racist behavior directed at me than anywhere else that I’ve lived. For example, last year a man with a giant confederate flag plastered along the side of his truck pulled up next to me at a stoplight. I was in my mini-van with my toddler in the backseat, on our way to pick up my daughter from school. The man saw me and instantly, visibly filled with rage. He began screaming at me, revving his engine, honking his horn and even put his Rottweiler at the window and directed the dog to bark at me.
This blatant display of racial hostility terrified me. I initially only told a few people about the incident and two of the people’s reactions made me feel very sad. One person asked if I had done something to provoke the man’s reaction. Another person simply said that they did not believe that such incidents happen in Helena and said nothing else of the situation. Only one person asked if I was ok. The reactions I received made me feel very lonely and as though the people I told lacked the ability to really understand how racism affects people.
If you value diversity in any meaningful way and want to make your community welcoming to all races, then it’s important to try to gain some knowledge of racial issues. When someone shares a personal story of racism and you question, disregard, diminish, or tell the person to “just ignore” the racist behavior, you are doing nothing to support your friend or eradicate racism in your community. Instead, those behaviors only serve to embolden and enable the perpetrator of hate. I suggest listening and responding thoughtfully and compassionately. For example, you could say, “I am sincerely sorry that you experienced that,” or “I am angry that such behavior exists in my community, what can I do to make things feel more safe?” Racism is an ailment to a functioning society and it should be treated and thought of as such.
I’m so sorry that happened to you, Akilah. There is no excuse, we must do better.
Since you are raising a family here, I’m curious – what are some things you are enjoying about our state? Do you feel yourself becoming more attached to the land or the people?
Now that we have settled into our lives in Montana, I enjoy our routine and exploring the landscapes that surround us. I have grown to appreciate the pace of life in Helena. When we first returned to Montana I struggled to figure out the rhythm of the town. The weather was very pleasant where we previously lived and we were able to be out year round without ever having to slow for weather related reasons. It was difficult to figure out what to do during the long winters with two little ones (and I also was not accustomed to how darn long it takes to get kids into their winter weather gear and out the door!). But now, I really enjoy the different seasons and I feel that my body has adjusted to understand that winter is a time for repose from the frenetic pace of summer, while spring and fall are both nice transitional times—with the beauty of wildflower season in the spring and the golden early sunsets of fall.
I have spent many hours hiking, exploring, and running on the mountain trails and I simply adore the mountains. It’s amazing to me to watch how greatly the changing seasons and light impact the look and feel of the trails. I also love the stunning, ever changing views, that award you get as you climb higher and explore deeper into the mountains.
I also enjoy our sweet little downtown. I love driving west down Broadway, once you pass the old Courthouse on Ewing, where you can see the beautiful old brick buildings on one side and Mount Helena on the other side. There is a great community of shops and welcoming, warm, and friendly shop-owners in Downtown Helena.
I am definitely attached to many people here. I have found friends who I absolutely adore and enjoy sharing various adventures with- such as sledding in ghost towns, celebrating Hanukkah, evening picnics at the lake, amazing themed birthday parties, blessingway ceremonies, crazy morning runs and more. These people and the times we share are a part of my soul and make Helena feel like home.
What brings you joy?
Many things bring me joy! Here is a list of things that bring me joy (in no particular order):
- Family adventures, family game night, family dance parties
- Running with my run group in the early mornings
- Visiting family and friends and having family and friends visit
- Montana Book Co. Social Justice Book Club
- Relationships, human connection, relating to others and finding shared interests, learning from others
- group texts with J and K
- Downtown Helena: Lasso the Moon, The Merc, 1+1=1, Murray’s, Montana Club, Buzz Boutique & Sewing, Queen City Ballet, The Herb and Garden . . .
- Watching dance choreography videos on YouTube
- Experimenting with baking
- Warm gatherings of friends
- Healthy eating
- Bad-ass women friends (here’s looking at you Rachel, Indigo, and Caitlin)
What’s your favorite time of day and why?
I absolutely love the early, early morning. On most days I am up and drinking coffee by 4:30 am and out the door to run by 5 am. The early morning feels like a deeply special gift. The air feels fresh, calm, and hopeful in the early morning (although the air mostly feels freezing in the winter!). All of the electricity, staleness, and fatigue from the day before are gone. I especially enjoy the earlier sunrises in spring and summer (and the warmth).
Is there a book that we all need to go out and immediately buy?
There are so many great books, publications, and articles out there, I couldn’t name only one. I value culture, history, community, compassionate narratives, and stories that include a full range of representation. I am a huge fan of books by Zadie Smith. Montana The Magazine of Western History is an incredible resource and I highly recommend that people run down to the Montana Historical Society to buy copies of the publication. The Montana Magazine of Western History does a great job of including a full range of stories from Montana’s history (I found a great article on the history of African American Buffalo Soldiers in Helena that I highly recommend). Another great resource to learn about the history of Montana is the Extreme History Project.
Tell us about a woman that you look up to – what is so inspiring about her?
I have had the great privilege of having many great women mentors in my life. The various talents, wisdom, insights, and kindness of the women I know inspire me. I had phenomenal women professors in college and law school who showed me the value of hard work coupled with self-confidence. In my personal life, I’ve also learned great lessons from my friends and family – from my Mother to our babysitters. Here are a few women in particular that I admire:
I admire so many things about my Aunt Marge. She has been there for me as a great support, friend, and confidante. I’m continually in awe of her ability to relate to, understand, and have compassion for others whose life experiences are far different from her own. She strives to learn and always says, “you don’t know, what you don’t know,” as a reminder to be slow to judge things of which you have no prior knowledge.
I look up to my friend Alice who is passionate, hard working, humble, intelligent, and an incredible artist (musically, literary, and is even a great visual artist). Although she is very talented, she remains kind and open and always seeks to better understand others and is a compassionate listener. She has taught me great lessons on friendship, love, and communication.
Our former babysitter, Djenanway, is a young woman who I admire. She is a wise soul with a rich depth of character. She is a literary artist and natural storyteller. It is amazing to watch her very intentionally curate her life while still allowing pliability in her experiences. From Djenanway, I have learned the importance of honestly sharing your story and paying close attention to the narratives of the people around you.
One last notable woman that I look up to is my friend Kimo. Kimo is the owner of Effie’s Heart clothing. This woman is a fearless advocate for social justice and civil rights. She risked her entire business to stand up against hate, sexism, racism, and bigotry. She is a fierce friend that would do anything to support you, but also call you out and hold you accountable! I greatly admire her daringness, passion, and fantastic design skills!
What kind of woman do you hope to be?
I hope to be a thoughtful, open-minded, adventurous woman. I hope to continue to grow, gain wisdom, and retain my curiosity for the world. I want to be a trusted, safe person in the community that people can turn to without fear of judgment. Lastly, I want to have healthy relationships with others, built on honest, open communication, lack of ego and mutual respect.
How important is friendship to you?
Friendship is extremely important to me. All of my most significant, meaningful relationships are grounded in friendship- from my marriage to my familial relations- it’s all based in friendship. I feel extremely lucky to also have a good group of close friends. My close friends are family to me and I absolutely cherish them. For me, being a quality friend is as important as having good friends. I strive to be dependable, trustworthy, honest and supportive in my close friendships and I do not take friendship lightly.
I also highly value and regard being a part of a community. I truly enjoy meeting people and learning about their lives and hearing their stories and perspectives. I try to build a sense of community for myself wherever I live by going out and making friends.
If there was one person, living or dead, who you could have a drink with, who would you pick?
I honestly have no idea! There are so many different facets to my personality that I have never fixated on one person as the single greatest person. There are so many fascinating people, both past and present, that I know nothing about, that I could not possibly answer this question. For instance, I recently learned about the famous Danish astronomer and nobleman, Tycho Brahe (perks of being married to a former scientist is that I get to learn about people and things way out of my normal range of interests). Brahe was not only an incredibly important astronomer, but he also had one of the craziest life stories imaginable. In fact, some theorize that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was inspired by Brahe’s life! I knew nothing of this man for thirty-six years of my life—so I’m certain that there are tons of other significant, interesting people that I know nothing of.
What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Phewf—that’s another hard question! I feel like I am a work in progress and there is so much ahead of me that I hope to accomplish. I do not have a single greatest accomplishment, but I am proud of things that I have accomplished. I feel particularly grateful that I managed to take the SATs and apply to college during a very tumultuous time in my life. My senior year of high school my home life fell apart and I ended up living with my friend and her single, disabled mother. They welcomed me into their small apartment where I slept on the couch because there was no other place for me. I knew that I desperately wanted to go to college, so when colleges visited my school I went to the on-campus interviews and took their vouchers for free admissions fees (that they gave to any kid who participated in the on-campus interview process). I told my Aunt and Uncle that I wanted to take the SATs and apply for college so they helped me by paying the SAT fees, getting me a study book, and providing me access to a computer so that I could work on my personal essays (required for the college application process). I am forever thankful to my friend and her mom and my Aunt and Uncle for all of their support that year. If I had not taken the initiative to go to college, then I would not have received a great education, studied abroad (where I met two of my dearest friends), met my husband, gone to law school, continued to run, had my awesome kids—all the things that I most love about my life. Accordingly, I feel that applying to and attending college was a great accomplishment in my life.
What is saving your life right now?
Running saves me over and over again. Finding a group of women to run with has added more depth and joy to my running. I love the rhythm and routine of my early morning runs coupled with the fun conversations and laughs that my run group brings. I am currently daydreaming about training hard this summer to run the NYC marathon in the fall!
The television show Blackish is a great show that carefully and critically examines difficult contemporary issues. I really applaud the writers and cast for using grace and humor in an attempt to build understanding and bridge the gap between people of different backgrounds.
Another thing that is saving my life right now is blatant expressions of self-acceptance by musicians like Lizzo, King Princess, and Janelle Monae.