Three amazing Madison community members with transformational life stories will be honored at the MOSES Virtual Transformation Celebration on Saturday, Nov. 21.
“The importance of the Gala is to let community people know how incarceration happens, and that people can turn things around in their lives to give back and be contributing community members. We also want formerly incarcerated people to know they can dream big and their lives do not have to be determined by their past,” Rachel Kincade, president of Madison Organizing in Strength, Equality, and Solidarity (MOSES), tells Madison365. “All three of these fine people have never forgotten where they came from or who they have left behind. They are genuine, caring, and successful in their now lives.”
Shanita Lawrence, John Givens and Talib Akbar will be the honorees at the annual MOSES Celebration, which is normally an in-person event.
“MOSES is all about ending mass incarceration and mass supervision and eradicating the racial disparities that feed into this system,” Kincade says. “This is a big fundraiser for us and we’ve been a little stressed since about June wondering how we would be able to host the gala. It became very apparent to us that we would have to go all virtual. What’s hard about that is that our honorees don’t have the audience and the people cheering them on. They don’t have all of the things that they would have normally.
“So we’ve really tried to think out of the box on how we can make this night more special for them if we have to do this all virtually, and I think we’ve come up with some great ideas and we are going to have a really amazing night,” she adds.
Carmella Glenn, program coordinator for the Just Bakery program, an initiative of JustDane, will be the emcee of the event that will have music and inspirational stories. Mark Rice, co-founder of EXPO (EX-incarcerated People Organizing), will talk about MOSES and many of the successes they have had this past year. Kincade will talk about the importance of the Gala, the only fundraiser MOSES will be hosting this year, and will introduce a video of interviews about the transformation of the lives of the honorees.
From an abusive and insecure childhood, honoree Shanita Lawrence was homeless and responsible for a baby sister at age 12. Later, she became a mother who was convicted and incarcerated at 18. Yet her devotion to her extended family and son and her determination to get an education did not waiver during the time she was incarcerated.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the obstacles I’ve overcome, good and bad. As I’ve looked over my life I’ve seen the 180s that God brought me through,” Lawrence says in a statement. “I was once in situations that were terrible but now, being on the other side of those situations, I bring forth my experience to the community and my dedication to helping all succeed.”
Honoree John Givens is a friend and mentor to many in Madison and, in a special way, to people who have received guidance through his work at Just Dane (formerly known as Madison-area Urban Ministry). After serving in the military, John was incarcerated. Educated in prison, John came out and worked at Madison’s first youth program called Sprite, has worked at the Urban League, and has given his compassion and skills to help many throughout the years.
Honoree Talib Akbar is well known to MOSES members who have heard him speak eloquently against solitary confinement and work tirelessly against injustice.
“I’m a living testimony for what’s going on in prison. My transformation comes from twenty years of suffering pain, and I know what other people are going through,” Akbar says. “I can’t make society honest and whole now, but I can make myself honest and whole and for real.”
The awards will be presented virtually although all three honorees will have the physical awards by the time of the Gala.
“The families of the honorees will all be treated to a soul food dinner by Food Junkies and that will be delivered to them prior to the Gala along with their awards and a bouquet of flowers,” Kincade says. “We usually have dancing at our Galas but this year we will have a slide show with some nice music thanking our sponsors, our honorees and everybody who came. The video will show our MOSES members doing great things.”
The MOSES Virtual Transformation Celebration will be held Saturday, Nov. 21, 6:30 p.m. The cost to register is $50, and every dollar goes to support the work of MOSES, thanks to our event sponsors. For more information, click here.