The King Coalition of Madison and Dane County held its 36th annual King Holiday observance celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day virtually with hundreds tuned in. Challenging injustice with strength and love was the theme of this year’s commemorative event.

Held Jan. 18, the remembrance allowed viewers to pause and reflect on the life and contributions of the late civil rights leader, as the country continues to grapple with a deadly pandemic and political division that has prompted a near lockdown of Washington D.C. ahead of the presidential inauguration.

Angela Fitzgerald, host of Wisconsin Life on PBS Wisconsin, hosted the annual event which included presentation of the Madison-Dane County Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award by County Executive Joe Parisi and Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, and soulful melodies lead by musician Leotha Stanley and the MLK Community Choir.

Nationally respected scholar, commentator, and author Dr. Eddie Glaude wrapped up the local observance with an insightful message on racial reckoning and the path forward toward fulfilling Dr. King’s dream.

The 2021 City-County Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award recipients are: Rep. Shelia Stubbs, Lilada Gee and Shyra Adams. The winners, selected by the City-County Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, are community members who reflect the values of the dogged civil rights defender.

“Shelia, Lilada, and Shyra all honor the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through their leadership and efforts to engage with our community,” Parisi said. “Whether it be Shelia’s commitment to public service, Lilada’s work with Black girls and women, or Shyra’s efforts to support Black LGBTQ+ youth, each recipient has benefited our community and made it a better place. Congratulations to each of them for their achievements and for being recognized as this year’s Humanitarian Award recipients.”

Each award winner ꟷ past and present ꟷ has enhanced the fabric of Dane County. Here is more about them:

Shelia Stubbs — Humanitarian Award

State Rep. Shelia R. Stubbs (D-Madison) was elected as Supervisor of District 23-South Madison on the Dane County Board of Supervisors in April of 2006 and continues to serve today. She has lent her voice and wisdom to dozens of County Committees and Commissions and has received numerous awards for her trailblazing work.

“It is an honor to be recognized for my social justice work and I am proud to have been able to pave the way and to bring real change. And I underline real change, to Madison, Dane County and the state of Wisconsin,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs has been a role model and mentor to many young women. She was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in August 2018 and is the first African American to represent Dane County in the legislature. She was the first African American woman to chair a Dane County standing committee and to hold the leadership of vice chair of the Board. She was also the first African American woman to serve on and chair many state and county committees.

Lilada Gee — Humanitarian Award

For years, Lilada Gee has sponsored what she calls, “Lilada’s Living Room” as a place of refuge and respite for Black girls and women. Far too often issues in the Black community have been singularly focused on the police brutality and anti-blackness directed at Black men and boys. Gee has had the courage to state that Black girls and women are the least defended/protected people in our society. Much like Dr. King, she has given voice to that which has been unpopular. Each year, Gee sponsors a conference titled “Black Women Heal” that serves as a forum and sounding board for survivors and victims of abuse.

“I receive this prestigious award today on behalf of my inner Black girl and all undefended Black girls everywhere …,” Gee said. “They say that God will give you honor in the same place that has been dark in your life. And, if we dare to emerge from our own secrets and shame, and embrace our wounds, they will become our battle gear to fight against what has broken us, so that we can fight on behalf of those who have been broken like us.”

Gee was also an important artist who lent her talent to the public displays of art that were created after the George Floyd protests occurred along State Street in Madison. In addition to painting a striking mural along State Street, she began producing a very distinctive “Black Lives Matter” yard sign. When driving around Madison and the surrounding suburbs, it was possible to see the very special Lilada Gee yard signs that reminded us that when we say “Black Lives Matter” it also refers to Black women and girls.

Shyra Adams — Emerging Leadership Award

The Emerging Leadership Award winner, Shyra Adams is a Youth Justice Coordinator at Freedom, Inc. She joined Freedom, Inc. as a young teenager, and has been with the organization for over eight years. Adams is now focused on Queer leadership in People Like Us (PLUS), an LGBTQ+ group for Black and Southeast Asian youth. She is also working to end police violence against Black and Brown youth, LGBTQ+ youth, and youth with disabilities. Her ultimate goal is to ensure that Black and Brown students feel safe and supported in schools and in communities. She is also on the Food Justice Team, works at the Freedom Food Pantry and is involved in the Books and Breakfast program to help develop children’s literacy skills.

Realizing that her voice was her most powerful weapon against racism and other forms of social injustice, she helped to organize and lead many programs, actions, and initiatives including the Dignity in Schools National Week of Action Against School Pushout, Black Lives Matter in Schools Week of Action, and several local marches and protests. Adams also helps lead Freedom, Inc’s Black Girls Matter program and helped create space for community, self-love, building friendships, and storytelling.

“Since I was younger, I’ve always had a passion to help others by using my voice,” Adams said. “I found the passion at 13 years old. By getting this award I know my work is not being unrecognized.”

The City-County Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award accepts nominations year-round for individuals whose volunteerism and efforts follow Dr. King’s non-violent philosophy.