In January the City of Madison announced the awardees to be recognized by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award Commission. Freedom, Inc.’s Youth Justice Coordinator Shyra Adams was recognized for her leadership as an emerging leader in the age 18–25 category.
She wasn’t expecting the award but was happy to hear that members of Freedom, Inc.’s staff nominated her.
“It all happened so quick,” Shyra said. “Because of COVID, we had to pre-record accepting the award, and I felt proud. A lot of people congratulated me. It felt really good to do it. The work I do is not going unnoticed. I know that my work is helping the community, and it’s not just a job.”
Shyra was a prominent leader in the Black Lives Matter marches in Madison in the summer of 2020. She’s been involved with Freedom, Inc. for nearly a decade as a participant and youth organizer. One of the victories of 2020 was the unanimous decision of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board to end the District’s contract with local police officers in school. This decision was the result of years of pressure in a “No Cops In Schools” campaign by members of the Youth Justice Squad, including Adams.
Shyra combines direct action in the streets and in government meetings with other educational and volunteer efforts. She helped coordinate Freedom, Inc.’s Books and Breakfast program to distribute food and books that have a social justice theme. The program serves as a political education for children ages 5–11 that teaches them age-appropriate lessons on how to keep themselves safe, how to have body autonomy, and how to find adults who can safely help.
“I work with mostly Black girls in a program that works with Black and Southeast Asian youth,” said Adams. “We’re still working on our campaign beyond getting cops out of schools. We’re investing in youth leadership development and youth engagement. We want to be a resource for students and their families if they are having problems in school. We want money to be invested back into Black youth and youth of color. We’re still here and we still have demands.”
Awards also recognized the leadership of State Representative Shelia Stubbs and nonprofit leader and artist Lilada Gee.