M Adams is a self-described abolitionist. A moniker that conjures up the spirit of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner. Just as these ancestors defied the status quo to liberate others, Adams wields the strength of her platform as co-executive director of Freedom, Inc. to empower a legion of young people in pursuit of social and economic justice.
“We have built a generation of freedom fighters who can transform their rage into purposeful policies and actions that have the power to improve their lives.” says Adams. “We are proud of the young people who come here to learn how to conduct meetings, how to analyze policy, how to testify before a public hearing and other important leadership skills that not only benefit them but their entire families.”
Black and Southeast Asian liberation, in addition to LGBTQ and gender justice are the hallmarks of Freedom, Inc’s advocacy. However, Adams is clear the organization’s work and advocacy is rooted in intersectionality, a theoretical term created by Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in the late 1980s. Intersectionality reveals how various social and political constructs centered on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, physical appearance and disability combine to create unique forms of discrimination and privilege. The framework serves as the basis for how Adams and her legion of freedom fighters work to challenge the root causes of violence, poverty, racism and discrimination in Dane County.
The group’s ongoing efforts to end police presence in the Madison Metropolitan School District intensified after the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and the national civil unrest that occurred following other officer-involved shootings of unarmed Black people. The public pressure mounted by Freedom, Inc. and other activists caused school board members to unanimously vote to cancel its contract with the Madison Police Department in June.
A move that takes effect this fall and marks the first time a police officer will not be assigned to each of the district’s high schools since 1995.
“Defund the Police, doesn’t mean NO PROTECTION,” says Adams. “It means let’s reallocate resources in a more effective way to address the underlying issues of poverty, homelessness, the lack of health care and mental health services or affordable housing and culturally relevant educational resources that police are not equipped to handle.”
Lord knows there is not a shortage of research published on the socioeconomic disparities that exist for Black folks in Wisconsin. The job resource website Zippia evaluated incarceration and homeownership rates along with gaps in income and education to determine levels of racial inequality across the country.
The study revealed Wisconsin has one of the worst records of racial inequality in the United States. Key findings of the Zippia report show a 37% income gap between the average white and Black employee with similar jobs. When it comes to homeownership rates, the difference between white and Black homeowners stood at 48% and the state has one of the largest incarceration rates of African Americans in the country at 2,542 people per 100,000.
Adams knows the wheels of change turn slowly. The first step for change often begins in the mind.
“We understand that if something can change the world, it can also change you,” says Adams. “In doing this work over the last 12 years, my thinking has evolved. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to check my own cultural and gender biases that were rooted in misinformation.”
It is constant reflection and self-examination that keeps Adams energized to continue moving forward. As the daughter of a father who is presently incarcerated and a mother who experienced many forms of violence before finally succumbing to a battle with cancer in 2016, Adams understands trauma and suffering.
Her strong moral compass and love of family and friends serve as her North Star along a journey not made for the faint of heart.
“I am committed to building a better world, a world my mother deserved,” she says.
For more information on Freedom, Inc., visit: freedom-inc.org.