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City of Tempe recognizes ASU Project Humanities with MLK Diversity Award

January 11, 2021

Arizona State University’s Project Humanities will be recognized for excellence in education by the city of Tempe at the 23rd annual MLK Diversity Awards ceremony on Jan. 15. Project Humanities will be among 11 organizations and people who will be honored for demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and for exemplifying the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year, the city of Tempe accepts community submissions of adults, students, businesses and organizations who live, work or volunteer in Tempe and contribute to making Tempe a more inclusive city. After reviewing submissions, the Tempe Human Relations Commission selects the winners in a number of categories. 

This year’s education category winner, Project Humanities, works to facilitate critical conversations through multidisciplinary and inclusive public programming that engages local, national and international communities in humanities discussions.

Neal Lester, professor of English at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of Project Humanities, said diversity work is not often intersectional, typically focusing on one or two areas. This is something he says Project Humanities works to overcome through their work.

“Our approach for the past 10 years has been to see individual identities through multiple lenses of lived experience,” Lester said. “Our work is about human ties that bind us all to each other through narrative and storytelling that is both radical and transformative. The community conversations we have are never about telling folks how to think but rather to invite ourselves and each other to think more critically about complicated ideas.”

From workshops and lectures with thought leaders to film screenings and virtual hackathons for social good, Project Humanities has continued to find ways to engage the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This continued dedication to highlighting interconnectedness of humanity, justice and equality was central to Project Humanities being selected for the award.

Lester said the life and work of King often informs their efforts and inspires them to continue working to fulfill their mission of bettering the community.

Project Humanities team (right) with panelists at the “Dispelling the Myths: The Angry ‘Other’” event on Feb. 28, 2018, hosted at SEMA Foundation (Chandler).

“We are in the business of telling stories of us that encourage, challenge and inspire us all to be better and to do better,” he said. “This message is certainly one that propelled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to stay the course even when others doubted, challenged and aggressively sought to stop his work. Though he is not physically with us — his life tragically cut short precisely because of his unflagging justice work — we are inspired and challenged by his deep commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of justice for one and all.”

The Jan. 15 awards ceremony will be held virtually and will feature keynote speaker Tempe Mayor Corey Woods.

“Congratulations to Project Humanities and all the MLK Diversity Award winners for the exceptional work they do in Tempe,” Woods said. “Project Humanities offers real tools to teach people how to be more inclusive, compassionate and kind to each other. Programs like this one are vitally important to creating a more equitable community.”

The awards ceremony will be broadcast live at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 15 on Tempe 11, the city of Tempe Facebook, Cox cable channel 11 and on Century Link 8012. The awards ceremony recording will also be made available to watch after the event at

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