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Project Humanities director touted as 'Invisible Hero'

Neal A. Lester
February 04, 2015

If academia were Hollywood, it would be sweeps season for Neal A. Lester.

Lester, who is the founding director of ASU’s Project Humanities and Foundation Professor of English, was presented with the 2015 Invisible Heroes’ "UMOJA" Award at a Feb. 3 ceremony at Mount of Olives Lutheran Church in Phoenix. It is Lester’s sixth award in less than a year.

“Neal Lester educates the community about our biases, prejudices and stereotypes,” said Jason Green, founder of the United Gay Informed Men of African-descent (UGIMA). “He has always been an ally of the LGBT community and an agent of change regarding the privileges associated with heteronormativity and cisgender bias.”

Green said each year at Invisible Heroes, his organization gives out three awards based on the principles of Kwanzaa. “Umjoa” is the principle of unity, stressing the importance of togetherness for the family and for the community.

The award was established in 2010 by UGIMA to recognize the hidden or invisible history of current and past figures in the black and LGBT community. Past honorees include singer Sylvester, actor Paul Winfield, writer Langston Hughes, entertainer Josephine Baker and comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley.

Lester said the award holds special significance for him.

"That the work of Project Humanities is making such an impact nationally, regionally and locally is gratifying,” Lester said. “Reaching wide and diverse audiences has indeed become hallmark of our programming."

Lester and Project Humanities have received major accolades since the project was founded just over three years ago, demonstrating the rapidly growing success and impact of this university initiative.

In 2014, Lester received the Roy Wilkins Community Service Award from the East Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the inaugural Key of Excellence Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society; the Juliana Yoder Friend of the Humanities Award from Arizona Humanities; and a written commendation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Humanity 101 effort.

Last month, Lester was presented with the 2015 Francis March Award by the Association of Departments of English in Vancouver, Canada.