“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
A Freedom Fighter, Assata wrote this message for her people before escaping a men’s prison and going to Cuba. This is a quote I alway say with my young people to let them know that we are strong and loved by each other.
My name is Shyra-Sekani Adams, and I’m 22 years old. My pronouns are she, her, hers. I grew up on the west and southside of Madison. My first 18 years of life were hard as a Black girl. In school, the teachers never believed in me and always saw me as a “bad Black girl.” I struggled with many learning disabilities, so I had an individualized education plan (IEP) my whole 12 years in school. My IEP was not accounted for correctly. It was more like a punishment. They would call home every day to tell how bad I was. For little things like turning around, talking to my friends, and needing to walk around because I have ADHD/ADD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Home was never a healthy place. Physical, mental, and emotional abuse. The older I got, the worse they became. For years I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my friends, because of the fear I had with my biological family. When I was 12, I developed depression and suicidal thoughts. I didn’t know who to turn to. So most of my actions showed at school. I was basically crying out for help, but no one saw it until one day I told my principal what was going on at home.
Being Black, disabled, and queer, I didn’t get the same opportunities as my straight peers. As I grew up, going to programming every week at Freedom Inc., I was finding myself and who I was. I felt that I was different. No one understood me. Being gay was not a “normal thing” in my home, and I knew I might’ve liked girls. I didn’t tell anyone though. I didnt formally come out at school, but everyone knew I was gay. And it was okay with everyone except my biological family.
I wished for a better life, and better parents, and a loving family that could protect me.
The summer of 2016 changed my life. I got adopted by two loving parents and three siblings that gave me a family I always dreamt of. I came to them at a very hard time in my life. Still struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety, they got me the help I needed.
I was more comfortable dressing in masculine clothes, but was scared to do so because I didn’t think people would accept me. First there were men’s boxers. Then men’s shirts and shoes. The summer of 2016 when my parents took me in, they let me get clothes that I was comfortable in. I felt so fresh that no one could tell me anything. Then, I cut my hair. Taper. High on the top, short on the sides. Fresh lining. I have dreamt for this my entire life.
When I was 13, I was in the Black Beauties program at Freedom, Inc. I was a very shy kid and didn’t talk much there. But it was always good to be there and build with other Black girls. After being in the group for two years, I was offered a role as a youth leader. I would be leading with a group of other Black and Southeast Asian youth. We called ourselves the Freedom Youth Squad.
Throughout the years, we saw the school resource officers (SROs) in schools attacking and harrassing Black girls and youth of color. From there, we started our Police Free Schools campaign. We would go to countless school board meetings for four years, do speeches, and protest to get the SROs out of our Madison high schools. Speech after speech, they did not support or listen to us. There would be people attacking us and finding our personal information and putting it on social media. We asked the school board to do four things: One, take cops out of schools and hold teachers accountable for calling police on students. Two, invest in Black youth and youth of color creativity, wellness, and leadership. Three, replace harsh punishments with restorative justice. We believe in repairing and restoring where the harm has been done. Figure out the root cause of everyone who has been harmed and take accountability. Lastly, give youth, parents, and trusted adults the real decision making. We also came up with some things that teachers could do to help with our campaign. We came up with a Black Sanctuary Pledge. This was a pledge where teachers signed on not to harm Black students and will come to meetings/training to learn how to not harm them.
Currently, I am a Youth Justice coordinator who leads two Black girl groups between the ages of 11–18. Black Girls Matter is a space where black girls come together and do activities and learn about body safety. We also come together and learn about topics that are not taught to us in schools for example: teen dating violence, LGBTQIA+, advocacy, and talk about current situations that are important to know about.
My vision is for Black girls to live free and always know that they are loved and that they can get the resources that they need.