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Ty Allan Jackson and Sen. Adam Hinds together, with Jackson’s 2019 Black Excellence on the Hill Award (left) and Shirley Edgerton and Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier celebrate her 2019 Black Excellence Award in the historic Chamber of the House of Representatives.

Edgerton, Jackson Receive 'Black Excellence on the Hill' Award

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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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Pittsfield Rallies for Reproductive Rights

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff


PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Nearly 200 people gathered at Park Square on Sunday in solidary with reproductive rights and to mourn the Supreme Court's overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

"My wish is that we can take this energy that's here today and all the people that didn't work out to be here today, to really take this energy and to funnel it so that we can take real action," state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said.

"And the change is not something that's going to happen in a couple of months or even a couple of years but we have to be as strong as the opposition because we know we're that we're the majority, it's just that so far, we're not the majority that votes. So we've got to get to work, we need to do it strategically and persistently."

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday voted to reverse the 1973 decision that legalized abortion across the nation. This ruling means that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion and it undermines other right to privacy decisions including contraception, marriage and medical issues. 

"It's pretty shattering," Elizabeth Freeman Center Executive Director Janis Broderick said. "It brings us back more than 50 years."

Massachusetts is one of 35 states, including the District of Columbia, where it is still legal to have the procedure after the ruling. Abortions are potentially illegal or soon to be illegal in at least 11 states and illegal in five, according to

On Friday, Republican Gov. Charlier Baker signed an executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services in the commonwealth. The order gives health-care professionals protection from legal liability from professional sanctions issued under the laws of other states.

"I am deeply disappointed in today's decision by the Supreme Court which will have major consequences for women across the country who live in states with limited access to reproductive health care services," Baker said. "The commonwealth has long been a leader in protecting a woman's right to choose and access to reproductive health services, while other states have criminalized or otherwise restricted access."

Numerous officials have weighed in, with District Attorney Andrea Harrington saying the reversal "threatens the health and safety of women nationwide by limiting access to safe reproductive health care and undermining the public's trust in law enforcement."
"Abortion bans disproportionately harm sexual abuse, rape, incest, human trafficking, and domestic violence victims," she said. "This decision will only strip survivors of gender-based violence of their safety, dignity, and autonomy and severely jeopardizes our ability to hold criminals accountable."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren called it a "five-alarm fire" and with other Democrats called on the president "to mobilize a whole-of-government response to protect abortion rights."
Two Republican candidates for office cheered the decision, with gubernatorial hopeful Geoff Diehl and Leah Allen, endorsed by the party for lieutenant governor, said they supported "the proper interpretation of our Constitution" by placing the question of abortion back to the states. 
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