We had the good fortune of connecting with Montoya Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Montoya, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
The Mental Dialogue CommUNITY Club mission is to create a nationwide virtual neighborhood where African Americans learn to trade ideas, goods, & services through paradigm shifting fellowships via meetups, podcasts, and social media. By connecting good and smart people together we have created an organic network that has lead individuals and groups to work together in so many ways. The Club literally started in a barbershop in 2008 and now the testimonies are too many to count to include people finding employment, mental health therapists, real estate agents, financial & estate planners, business consultants, doctors, dentist, etc. Each year the Club also adopts a nonprofit to donate to such as homeless, youth, or domestic violence outreach, etc. We typically accomplish our deeds by meeting once a month, but of course during COVID we have moved our meetings to Zoom and in the last year we have added a Black business marketplace, where African American owned business can showcase their online business to our online community. In addition to our meetups for the last five years every Saturday at 10am EST the Mental Dialogue talk show is live, and we are the best in the world at having hard conversations on race, sex, and gender issues. It is niche market where we reach 1000-2000 listeners, whom we call Truth Seekers, and we attempt to have cultural shifting conversations in which we all learn to deal with one another through honest dialogue. In additions to those conversations, we also have some shows specifically on how to improve small businesses, and we have literally connected business owners live on the air to include one owner getting their alcohol brand distributed in stores. Due to the intellectual nature of our discussions, we attract a specific audience that is groomed to help each other every chance we get. We have earned the trust of our audience, by doing our due diligence on the experts we introduce them, so the testimonies continue to expand as we bring more professionals in the fold.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Ultimately the work is in the name itself, Mental Dialogue, which subscribes to the idea that if we help participants, members, listeners, etc. improve the conversations inside of their own heads with themselves they will become a better person, which in turns makes the collective better. Again, it started out as a simple social gathering in a barbershop in which I would bring refreshments and encourage attendees to dialogue versus debate about difficult subjects such as race, sex, gender, and even politics. My 1st real opportunity to expand came after I got fired from a sales job under false pretenses and during that time of unemployment, I was approached to turn our monthly Mental Dialogue discussions at the barbershop into a talk show. Although I lived in Atlanta, the talk show opportunity was literally 2 1/2 hours away once a week in South Carolina. I didn’t know anything about doing a talk show, but every Sunday, myself, and Denise Laing (my co-host at the time) would spend five hours on the road to complete a one-hour live show on terrestrial radio for Upstate South Carolina. Unfortunately, after three months the station decided to move to an online format only, and we severed our relationship. However, I now had the bug for doing talk radio and a few months later I joined online Glance Radio for a year and a half, before eventually moving onto Blog Talk Radio a little over 5 years ago and our current home for our live podcast every Saturday 10am EST. I most proud of the fact that I’ve been able to maintain my audience over the last 5 years, but since podcasting is now popular via video, I am excited about doing more video shows in the future via the Mental Dialogue YouTube page and a potential partnership with Black Billionaires Club TV. Stay tuned for that as Mental Dialogue is known for being the #returnofintelligentradio, and we hands down have the smartest audience in all of radio. Now the toughest part of creating this amazing social enterprise was convincing members they should help fund our endeavors. In the beginning I worked in various sales jobs and I would fund the events as a hobby, but after a few years constituents keep encouraging me to turn our monthly meetings into something more viable. Even with the encouragement to transition to a social enterprise it was very difficult to impress upon constituents the actual value in making these organic relationships at our meetings, although they often lead to actions, such as people getting therapy, parenting/relationship advice, and/or financial & investing advice. As a brand new unseasoned social entrepreneur, I failed at making a proper value proposition for the actual business of Mental Dialogue LLC. Over the years we kept improving on that process, and last year at the onset of the pandemic we were forced to go online with our events, and the pivot specifically made to embrace technology has been a life saver for the Mental Dialogue CommUNITY Club. Whenever the world opens back up outdoors, we are set for an even stronger comeback, because we will now have both a strong online & offline presence to solidify all the personal and business relationships already in the club and those yet to come. Ultimately the Mental Dialogue story is most noted by consistency and perseverance, especially due to the fact there were not a lot of blueprints for a social enterprise of this nature. We have been through many transitions, but the number one constant has been that we’ve remained. Anyone who likes to constantly challenge themselves to critically think the Mental Dialogue CommUNITY Club is perfect for you as we invite all opinions and ideologies to the table for authentic dialogue. Honestly, as adults, once we’ve finished formal education, we think the only way to truly learn is challenge our own thoughts and beliefs, which again assist us with our own self-improvement. We challenge you to come see what you can bring to the community, and our only ask is that you think.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
One of my 1st stops would have to be Black Dot Cultural Center and Bookstore in Lithonia, on the 2nd Friday to enjoy The Art & Cultural Show hosted by the amazing spoken word artist Sinsear Sinsear. The next morning, I would take them to the Beautiful Restaurant to get some true down-home South cooking for breakfast. I would also sign up for ATL Tours to receive an amazing tour of the historical landmarks around the city. That night we would have to decide between Harold’s Chicken on Edgewood or the Seafood Cafe in College Park (hard choice). Since I have yet to visit myself, I would probably take them to the Civil Rights Museum or the College Football Hall of Fame to take in a new experience with someone. Lastly no stop to ATL would be complete with dropping by Slutty Vegan for some amazing Vegan burgers.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Honestly, there are too many to fairly name right here, but I always recognize Fadeologist Barbershop because they allowed us to host our very 1st event, the Mental Dialogue Live Xperience, at their shop in November of 2008. It took another eight years before we turned it into an official social enterprise in 2016. Also have to recognize the CEO of Money Motivation, Marc Ranger, and one of my best friends for encouraging me to start the community club from the beginning and is now a long time sponsor of our Club. Lastly, I must shoutout all of members who not only ensure the club maintains itself, but who are dedicated to the expansion of our community. Ultimately, we may be a virtual neighborhood, but I tell them we can be neighbors even though we don’t live next to one another.
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Damon Thomas on pic with blue coat & pic and the pic with the red hat and sunglasses