Edgerton, Jackson Receive 'Black Excellence on the Hill' Award
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two Pittsfield residents were honored with a 2019 "Black Excellence on the Hill" award during a State House ceremony on Monday, Feb. 4.
Ty Allan Jackson, local author, literacy advocate, publisher and motivational speaker, and Shirley Edgerton, founder and director of the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program, director of Youth Alive and cultural proficiency coach for the Pittsfield Public Schools, were honored by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
Jackson was nominated for this recognition by state Sen. Adam Hinds and Edgerton was nominated by state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier
The MBLLC celebrates Black History month and the leaders who make Massachusetts communities thrive annually. The "Black Excellence on the Hill Award" is presented to local leaders, nominated by their state legislators, for their work in civic engagement, education, business and other notable fields. It is a celebration of black culture, excellence and achievement in the commonwealth.
"Ty has been a true leader in ensuring kids of color get to see themselves in children's books. His work has also been used to promote financial literacy in schools nationwide. He is an inspiration, and I am honored to call him my friend," Hinds said.
Jackson is the founder of Big Head Books, a literacy organization in Pittsfield that seeks to introduce children to the joys of reading. He travels to schools, youth organizations and various professional settings nationwide inspiring children and educating adults about the impacts of illiteracy. A two-time TedX presenter, he believes that literacy is the foundation for a successful life and promotes it with humor and enthusiasm.
"It is easy to simply say thank you for recognition and accolades such as these. But in addition to this being an acknowledgement of my work, I hope it serves as a symbol for others to pursue their dreams and aspirations," Jackson said. “We need more fighters and advocates willing to do what it takes to make our local and global communities a better place to live. With that being said I am truly thankful and humbled. To be appreciated for the work my colleagues and I have done to better the lives of children is heartfelt and gratifying."
This is not Jackson's first recognition for his efforts as an author and literacy advocate. In 2016 he received the "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Content of Character Award" from former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. His books have been featured on CNN, NBC Nightly News, The Steve Harvey Show, PBS and countless media outlets.
Jackson's first self-published book, "Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire: The Lemonade Escapade," is a fun and empowering story that teaches children about the value of saving, investing and entrepreneurship. It was adapted into a play and was also lauded by the largest African-American operated bank in the United States as a useful tool to teach inner city youth about finances. In response to the success of this book among children and educators, he co-founded an empowering financial literacy program called Danny Dollar Academy, which includes a four-week long financial curriculum for third- to fifth-graders. He also co-founded the Read Or Else movement, a program created to shine a light on illiteracy and how it impacts our country. With each purchase of a Read Or Else garment, a book is sent to a child in a homeless shelter.
Since 1995, Edgerton has served as the director of Youth Alive. The Youth Alive team of alumni that Edgerton mentored now uses the arts as a vehicle to improve participants' self-esteem and teach a variety of life skills. She also serves as the cultural proficiency coach for the Pittsfield Public Schools, where she coordinates projects and facilitates cultural competency trainings for educators and students, as well as assists with recruitment.
Edgerton is the founder and director of the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program (ROPE), which emphasizes and encourages holistic self-discovery for young women. For 21 years, she served as director of residential programs for the state Department of Developmental Services in Berkshire County. In addition to managing the state-operated residential program, this work included coordinating the summer youth employment program for six residential programs in western Massachusetts.
The founder of the Women of Color Giving Circle and co-founder of Lift Ev'ry Voice: Celebrating African American Culture and Heritage, Edgerton's volunteer service to the region also includes serving on MCLA’s Board of Trustees in 2010-2014 as well as on the steering committee for the Berkshire Priorities Literacy Project in 2011. In addition, she was a member of the board of directors for the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts from 2005-2009.
"Shirley is the embodiment of educator and community leader. She has worked for decades with the youth of our community bringing out the very best of them and launching them into adulthood with confidence, pride and sense of responsibility. Many of the youth she once mentored are now rising community leaders in their own right," Farley-Bouvier said. "And, Shirley has taken all she has learned about race relations and now shares it with the adults in the community through her cultural competence work in the schools and beyond. In this time when we are struggling to understand each other, Shirley is able to increase awareness, expand perspectives and facilitate conversations, all which bring this community closer to the ideal of having every one of us respected and valued. "
"I'm deeply moved and honored to receive such a prestigious recognition and I thank Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier for her continued support and commitment to ensure all of our precious youth have access and opportunity to become happy and self-assured individuals and productive citizens," said Edgerton. "I'm thankful for the shoulders of the strong and bodacious women on which I stand and who inspired and encouraged me to be the best I can; and to remember that life is about whom you have lifted up and who you have made better. It's about what you have given back. I rise daily and understand that getting the most of life isn't about how much you keep for yourself, but how much you pour into others.”
Established in 1973, the mission of the MBLLC is to identify, highlight and analyze issues and concerns affecting people of color in the commonwealth. The caucus seeks to define a sense of political awareness among its constituents and make the political and legislative process accountable and accessible for those who have been disenfranchised. It is chaired by state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez (D-Springfield) and led by Executive Director Lucas DeBarros.
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