ASU MLK Jr. committee honors 2 Student Servant-Leadership awardees

January 3, 2022

Two students have been selected as the 2022 ASU Martin Luther King Jr. Student Servant-Leadership awardees, as a part of Arizona State University’s annual MLK Jr. celebration.  

Encouraging the continuation of King’s legacy, each year, ASU’s MLK Jr. committee selects both a servant and student-servant leader who have made a meaningful difference in their community and in the lives of people around them.   Portraits of ASU Martin Luther King Jr. Student Servant-Leadership awardees Roicia Banks and Ivan Quintana. Awardees Roicia Banks and Ivan Quintana. Download Full Image

For the first time in its 37-year history, thcommittee, chaired by ASU Vice President for cultural affairs Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, has selected two ASU students to honor with the 2022 Student Servant-Leadership Award. 

Students Roicia Banks and Ivan Quintana will both be honored at ASU's Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 20. 

“All of the student applicants this year were top notch and made selection extraordinarily challenging," said Jennings-Roggensack. “When Roicia and Ivan rose to the top two choices, (the committee) embraced doing something we’ve never done before and decided to honor them both. Their commitment and passion to leadership demonstrates the tenants of Dr. King and we are proud to honor them as our 2022 student servant leadership awardees.” 

Witthis yeartheme being “inclusion starts with us,” these students’ heritage, culture and upbringing shaped them into the resilient and selfless leaders they are today.  

Roicia Banks 

Having faced many hardships early on in life from being both a Black and Indigenous woman, to growing up in foster care and being adopted by her late Hopi mother, Banks is the definition of a strong and resilient servant leader. 

I have done so much at my age because I faced some of the hardest challenges early on in my life,” Banks said. “I had to figure out what abandonment was and then really try to work through my identity, and being biracial was super challenging. Since I had a lot of these challenges early on, by the time I graduated high school and went to college, I had a good foundation of who I was, and everything just flourished after that.”  

Banks is a first-generation graduate, having earned a bachelor's degree in both African and African American studies and political science at ASU. She then received her master’s degree in social work from the University of Houston. This education and 10 years of experience as a social worker for state and tribal government inspired Banks to make a bigger impact.  

“I was definitely an advocate and a fighter for my caseload, my children,” Banks said. “But I started to realize that I'm getting solutions and I'm providing solutions, and nobody wants them, or nobody cares to implement themrealized (the foster care system) is just a functioning oiled machine, and nobody's really interested in preventative measures. I just couldn't take it anymore. 

In 2018, Banks became owner and founder of Social Roots LLC, a business that focuses on the improvement of African American and Indigenous communities, that not only preserves families but ensures that both children and adults have the resources needed to prosper in a healthy environment and community.  

“I founded Social Roots based off my experiences and what I wanted social work to look like. I wanted to be an answer to my own issues that I saw occurring in my communities,” Banks said.  

The company expanded its programming to creatively and culturally impact those who experience trauma,” according to its website 

One example of this programming is ATTITUDE: A Mental Health Summit for African American WomenThis summit provides a safe space to learn and discuss topics surrounding the mental health of African American female professionals.  

I focus a lot more on culture because I realize culture was a huge part of my growth and my success in identifying who I am, where we come from and our relationships; really doing the unpacking and healing, you know, from our family’s trauma,” Banks said.  

Banks is extremely proud of both her African American and Indigenous culture, and attributes much of her success to the teachings and lessons of her tribe and Hopi mother 

“My mother is a big role model,” Banks said. “I didn't realize how much of a servant she was to our family and our community, and it was modeled right in front of me. It’s because our culture reflects that so much, it's just second nature and is the character of my tribe. I’ve had great examples of leadership and helping others.”  

Banks plans to continue her work at Social Roots LLC and is currently working toward her Master of Legal Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous legal law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU.  

“To get to the root of what is happening, it comes down to policy, it comes down to law, it comes down to codes, and I really just wanted to be armed with the understanding and knowledge of how to read those codeshow to be able to translate the law and how it impacts us as a tribal nation,” Banks said.  

Banks feels both humbled and proud to be receiving the Student Servant-Leadership Award from the ASU MLK Jr. committee. 

I think oftentimes we minimize the work that we do, maybe as women or women of color or as Black women. We don't really see the impact or the value measured in the same way. To be in the same category with these people who are life-changers, it's honoring and humbling, but I have to also acknowledge that I'm in that space as well. 

Ivan Quintana  

Born and raised in a small town in Northern Mexico by parents who completed the equivalent of a middle school education, Ivan Quintana moved to the U.S. at the age of 18 to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of not only himself, but his family.  

My parents have made a lot of sacrifices for me to be able to get a quality education at the expense of themselves,” Quintana said. “They wanted our lives to be a lot different than theirs.”  

Quintana moved to America and began his secondary education at Mesa Community College. During this two-year period, Quintana experienced the challenges that come with being both a first-generation and low-income college student.  

I just didn't know how college worked,” Quintana said. “I was working full time, going to school, attempting to better not only my life, but that of my family.”  

But Quintana soon found solace in helping others in similar situations through becoming a college completion ambassador for AmeriCorps Arizona Ready for College and Career program, from 2018 to 2019 

During his time in this program, Quintana led informative summer camps for high schoolers, helped high school seniors apply for both college and FASFA, and provideemotional support for both students and families.  

“A lot of timesthese families were very similar to mine,” Quintana said. “It was amazing to see that what they all wanted was a better life for their kids. That gave me the push to continue doing this type of work.”  

So, while achieving academic success at community college and transferring to ASU in 2019, Quintana continued to work tirelessly to help others achieve their dreams.  

Quintana’s work spanned from virtually tutoring a third-grader in Los Angeles during the pandemic to being a STEM instructor for Chicanos Por La Causa, where he helped pilot an online scavenger hunt curriculum based on problem-solving, analyzing clues and conducting home art and science projects  

Quintana currently works for Trio Grant, which is a set of federally funded college programs created to help first-generation, low income, disabled and veteran students.  

“It’s really cool to be able to join this sort of family that has existed since the 1960s and was designed to help students like me,” Quintana said. 

All these experiences have helped Quintana realize that first-generation students have a hidden wealth and strength not found in your typical college scholar, and he encourages first-generation students to look at their life as an asset.  

I think that a lot of times, society outlines what success should look likeI know many students feel like they're not good enough to be in college, but (first-generation college students) have assets of being a good caretaker and looking out for other people,” Quintana said. There is a lot of cultural wealth and cultural capital that we have as first-generation, low-income studentsbe appreciative of that and of ... the many things that you have that other people don't.”  

Quintana is expected to graduate this spring with a double major in criminal justice and criminology and public service and public policy. He plans to attend law school in order to advance educational policies at both a state and federal level.  

Activist and award-winning chef Silvana Salcido Esparza was selected by the ASU MLK Jr. Committee as this year’s Servant-Leadership Awardee. She, along with faculty and staff awardees Neal Lester and Marcelino Quiñonez, will be honored with Banks and Quintana on Jan. 20.

Marketing Assistant, ASU Gammage

Founding director of Project Humanities honored with 2022 ASU MLK Jr. Faculty Servant-Leadership Award

January 3, 2022

An influential professor at Arizona State University since 1997, Neal Lester has been selected as the 2022 ASU Martin Luther King Jr. Faculty Servant-Leadership awardee, as a part of the university's annual MLK Jr. celebration.

Lester is the founder and director of ASU’s awarding-winning Project Humanities initiative, which seeks to connect the university and local communities through “talking, listening and connecting.” He has previously been a professor of English at the University of Alabama and the University of Montevallo, having received his BA in English at the State University of West Georgia, where he was valedictorian of his graduating class. He then become the first African American to receive a doctorate degree in English at Vanderbilt University.   Portrait of ASU Professor and Project Humanities Founding Director Neal Lester. Neal Lester Download Full Image

Lester’s work not only connects communities, but gives a voice to those who feel marginalized. In this Q&A, Lester discusses this work and his experiences serving others.  

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: You’ve been honored with the inaugural 2022 ASU MLK Jr. Faculty Servant-Leadership Award. Describe how you felt when you heard the news. 

Answer: Any time my name is spoken or written in the same sentence that lauds the servant-leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am excited and humbled. It was a very pleasant surprise getting this news, as I had no idea that I was even being nominated for this award. It’s gratifying to know that others are watching, valuing and being impacted directly or indirectly by the work that I am facilitating through the state and national platform that is Project Humanities, the initiative that I direct, as well as by my community and professional presence in the field — the trenches as it were — in this ongoing work toward social justice.

Additionally, this news was especially meaningful since 2021, as Project Humanities’ 10th anniversary year, began with Project Humanities receiving an MLK Diversity Award in Education from the city of Tempe in January, and in December 2021, Project Humanities received the ASU Committee for Campus Inclusion Catalyst Award for “inspiring and igniting transformation and inclusion.” Importantly and notably, our 10th anniversary culminating event in November 2021 was my one-on-one virtual conversation with Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., about the King family legacy and her and the King Center’s ongoing national and global work to promote nonviolent social change. This all feels cosmically connected. 

Q: How have your life experiences shaped you into the leader you are today?  

A: I have always wanted to be a teacher, and on some level must have realized that teaching is inherently a leadership profession. After serving in a few administrative positions here at Arizona State University, I better understand how teaching and supervising/managing are not that different. Each position requires of the most effective leaders, a commitment — personally and organizationally — to principles that Project Humanities terms “Humanity 101”:  compassion, integrity, respect, kindness, forgiveness, empathy and self-reflection. Every and any effective and impactful teacher, leader, manager, supervisor, student or staff member surely must connect with these principles in some way. And these aren’t necessarily faith-based principles, but rather principles that challenge us to do better and be better people. 

Q: How have you incorporated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s values of service and inclusion in your everyday life? 

A: With an academic career that spans over 30 years, I have worked ambitiously and tirelessly to empower diverse audiences of students, faculty, staff, administrators and community members to view critically and experience the world in a way that challenges their own perceptions and biases. By connecting literary and cultural studies with world events, I emphasize the power of lessons learned through talking, listening and connecting with one another. Disciplines, majors and minors are constructs. What is more important to me personally is not so much “what makes us human,” but rather the notion of “how we are human.”  This question crosses disciplines, professions, generations and communities. In the years since developing this initiative, Project Humanities has expanded its efforts to create outreach and programming within and beyond the ASU campuses and well into the broader Phoenix communities.

In the last eight years, our Project Humanities’ Service Saturdays homeless outreach has engaged hundreds of intergenerational and multi-professional individuals across the Valley to donate, collect and distribute clothing, shoes and toiletries to adults experiencing homelessness in downtown Phoenix. Individuals experiencing homelessness and other instability are often ignored or cast aside simply because of their unfavorable and often life-threatening circumstances. Volunteers from across the Valley become catalysts for positive change and are given opportunities to witness that, despite individual differences in appearance, perspectives, socioeconomic status and even values, human beings are, as poet Maya Angelou posits, "more alike than we are unalike."

Another specific example of my commitment to enhancing the dignity of all people lies in the wide range of programming that Project Humanities very intentionally creates and opens to multiple communities. Over the years, my team has organized community conversations surrounding topics — such as life after incarceration, religious doctrines and dogma, cultural appropriation and cultural awareness, privilege and unconscious bias in the workplace, workplace bullying, addiction recovery, suicide and self-harm, intersectionality within LGBTQIA+ communities, toxic positivity, youth and mental health, transgender athletes and sports, white women dismantling white supremacy, the uses of anger, and menstrual equity — to name a few. A common theme running through these very different topics, events and programs — and that informs everything that I do both in and outside the classroom — is my conviction that culture and difference must be acknowledged, valued and celebrated as elements of our shared humanity.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience of helping others? 

A: While I get great joy witnessing my students’ “aha!” moments in class, when they offer new and enthusiastic insights into a text that I have taught for years, and when they take my courses multiple times, I experience another level of joy when — sometimes years later — they express to me that they see connections between texts we’ve explored and their own lives, and particularly the world around them. This is all very exciting, indeed.  

Perhaps the most transformative work for me, though, is our homeless outreach. It’s humbling, inspiring and meaningful on so many levels. Importantly, engaging with this outreach dispels so many myths too many folks harbor about homelessness. Engaging in this outreach helps to show that homelessness is not an identity but rather a circumstance in which any one of us could find ourselves if our current networks of support fail. So many take for granted what a travel-size tube of toothpaste and a new toothbrush, travel size shampoo and conditioner, soap, reading glasses, disposable razors, a pair of socks, a bra and clean underwear mean to those who do not have these items. More importantly, just asking clients their names as volunteers become their “personal shoppers” is a transformative moment of shared humanity. 

Q: Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated to serve others?  

A: Andrew, a high schooler and member of Boys Team Charity of Ahwatukee, told his family last week that he wanted to participate in our homeless outreach the morning of Dec. 11 to begin his 16th birthday. Andrew brought his parents, his brother and his brother’s friend, and yes, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Andrew. That Andrew asked his family for this gift was a gift to me. And just after the donations truck had been reloaded and I was ready to drive off, a client in a wheelchair beckoned for me to come over to him. As is typically the case, I expected him to request something after everything had been packed away. I was very wrong. He called me over to say that he has not come through our pop-up market, but that he has been watching and observing us when we come down every other week. He thanked us for doing this outreach and talked about how organized we are. I was humbled, appreciative and moved by his/this gift of gratitude.  

That we have families doing this with us reminds me of the Todd family where the grandpa, Laray, has for the past three years driven two hours from Prescott to Phoenix to do outreach with his then 13-year-old grandson, Santi. Laray and Santi bonded over this outreach when Santi was in the eighth grade. Santi is now a high school junior and gets academic credit as a Project Humanities outreach intern. 

Fifty-two volunteers supporting 180 clients on Dec. 11 was a gift. Eighty-five volunteers on Thanksgiving weekend supporting 200-plus clients was a gift. Sixteen Friday afternoon sorters spending four hours sorting through and organizing bags and bags and boxes and boxes of donations is a gift. Nearly 150 bras donated from our new outreach partners, The Bra Recyclers, LLC, is a gift. A slew of sorted donations and four volunteers from Christina Bolyard and AZ Knowledge Empowerment and Advocacy Group is a gift. Having former Project Humanities student worker Bella Escalante join us after graduating from ASU five years ago is a gift. In this outreach, such gifts abound. And none of this outreach could be as joyful — or even possible — without each and every volunteer. All of this inspires and challenges me to keep this momentum and impact going. 

Q: What advice would you give to future leaders here at ASU?  

A: Being an effective leader does not mean that one has to lose touch with one’s humanity and the heartbeat of these principles — compassion, integrity, respect, forgiveness, kindness, empathy and self-reflection. These values are not “extras”; they are the core, and living these values is about intentionality and deliberateness. Practicing humility can be one of the greatest leadership qualities. Indeed, practicing humanity by extending humanity to others is also about risk-taking, especially when that very humanity may not be extended back to us. How others (mis)treat us does not have to dictate how we treat others. Dr. King’s life and legacy of non-violent social change certainly embraces this philosophy as a radical state of mind, as a radical way of thinking and being in a world that is laden with injustice after injustice after injustice. How we react or choose not to react to these injustices as we witness and even perpetuate them is the ultimate testament to who we are and how we are.   

Lester will be honored at ASU’S MLK Jr. celebration breakfast on Jan. 20, alongside servant-leadership awardee Silvana Salcido Esparza, student-servant awardees Roicia Banks and Ivan Quintana and ASU staff awardee Marcelino Quiñonez 

Marketing Assistant, ASU Gammage