Adams grew up in a large, musical family, full of women, in Baltimore. His uncle, a commercial artist, encouraged him to draw from an early age. “I always wanted to be an artist,” says Adams. “Even in elementary school I was making the posters for holiday events. They would pull me out of a class to make sure that they had a big banner to walk in and see in the morning.” A teacher recognized his talent early and began entering him into art contests. This culminated with Adams winning a competition titled “My Heritage, My Self” with a painting of an African-American family playing with their kid at home, below another painting of a traditional African village of people doing the same thing. The work was framed and hung in the Baltimore mayor’s office.
An interest in signage and posters, and how the subliminal codes of advertising and visual culture creep into one’s conception of identity, would continue into Adams’s undergraduate years at Pratt. There, he switched his degree from Art to Art Education, and went out into the New York public school system, where he discovered outdated images and posters about American history still in wide use as pedagogical tools. “These images, that are part of their visual language, totally contradict what’s going on in the real world. To me it became so troubling because it takes time for people to re-educate themselves. Something becomes true to them based on just being inundated with seeing it. They become familiar with it.”