Shirley Ann Session-Edgerton
Shirley Ann Session-Edgerton was born in Hemingway, South Carolina, and moved as a child to Mt. Vernon, and later the Bronx, N.Y. Extended family was essential – she was raised by her maternal grandmother and aunts – as was the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Mt. Vernon, where she found mentors. Shirley was awarded a B.A. from Herbert Lehman College, attended the Atlanta University School of Social Work, a historically Black university, and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, where she obtained her M.Ed. She married an AME Zion minister, and when he was offered a pastoral position at a Congregational church in Pittsfield, the family moved here.
With her support, her oldest daughter, Akilah, and a friend started Youth Alive, a step dance team and bucket drum group. Akilah was the founding director and further developed social and educational programs for Youth Alive, including collaborations with educational and cultural institutions such as Williams College and Jacob’s Pillow. She developed the Rites of Passage Empowerment Program for Girls (R.O.P.E) out of Youth Alive, and among the group’s activities are college tours to multicultural and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as service learning projects in South Africa. She is currently employed as the first Cultural Proficiency Coach for Pittsfield Public Schools.
About the election of the first African American as President of the United States (a question asked of all interviewees), Shirley says, “I felt like it was a pivotal moment in our history… I was elated that it was Barack Obama, because he was such a well-spoken and intelligent man. He also had so many life experiences, and he’s bi-racial. And I thought for the world, our society, that might make the blow of having a Black man as President a little easier.”
“One of my greatest pleasures now, when I’m with the young people in a community, is watching them learn something new. Sometimes they think, oh, this is fun. In their minds, this is fun. I’m having a good time, but, in my mind, I’m like, oh, my God, this is incredible. Look what they’re doing. You know, look what they’ve just learned.”
Click here to listen to Edgerton’s full interview in the Special Collections and University Archives at UMass Amherst Libraries.
A transcript of the interview can be accessed here.