Skip to main content

Lester honored by East Valley NAACP for community work

Neal A. Lester
September 25, 2014

Neal A. Lester, Foundation Professor of English in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the director of ASU’s Project Humanities, will be given the 2014 Roy Wilkins Community Service award by the East Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People next month. This award is the organization’s highest honor.

Lester will be recognized at the NAACP’s 40th Freedom Fund Gala Awards Banquet on Oct. 4, at the Historic Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort-Pavilion in Chandler, Arizona.

“This is such an unexpected recognition that means so much because it was unanticipated. To know that others around the Valley are witnessing the impact of this work is gratifying, especially an organization with such a long and distinguished record of addressing issues of social injustice,” Lester said. “While my work as a scholar and citizen isn’t solely about social injustice, it is about the importance of 'talking, listening, and connecting' across communities, disciplines, generations and professions.

The Roy Wilkins award is presented to a person who has distinguished him or herself by making a significant contribution to their community in the area of civil/human rights, race relations, equal opportunity and public service. Lester is being honored for his outstanding work with ASU’s award-winning, university-wide Project Humanities initiative and for the public awareness campaign “Straight Talk About the N-Word,” which he delivers to students and community members alike.

Since 1964, the East Valley NAACP has been advocating for equality and social justice for disenfranchised citizens in the Phoenix area. Wilkins was a prominent civil rights activist serving in various roles in the NAACP, including editor of Crisis, the association’s official magazine, and the executive director who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1967. The Roy Wilkens Center for Human Relations and Social Justice was established in his honor at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs in 1992.

“The East Valley NAACP felt that Neal Lester’s work with Project Humanities and the N-Word is more than work. It’s something that resonates deep inside him,” said Floyd Galloway, a member of the East Valley NAACP selection committee. “It’s easy to see Neal’s passion and the dedication he has in making a change in society, and the current society needs a change.”

Lester, whose teaching and scholarship focus on African American literary and cultural studies, including children’s literature, drama, folklore and popular culture, has been a professor of English at ASU since 1997, serving as chair of the department from 2004-2010, then later as dean of humanities and as associate vice president of humanities and arts at ASU.

ASU’s award-winning Project Humanities is a university-wide initiative that promotes and showcases the range, relevance and diversity of faculty and student humanities research and outreach. With both a national and international presence in conversations about the role, impact and importance of humanities study, content, courses and multidisciplinary collaboration, Project Humanities sponsors or co-sponsors approximately 100 programs a year. Themed bi-annual kick-offs, such as “Perspectives on Place;” “Are We Losing Our Humanity?;” “Heroes, Superheroes and Superhumans;” “Humor…Seriously;” and “Humanity 101: Creating a Movement” have featured high-profile guests and scholars, student and community participation, and have garnered national attention.

For more information on the 40th Freedom Fund Gala Awards Banquet and the East Valley NAACP, visit