An MLK Day meditation

Ahwatukee Professor Neal Lester said his Project Humanities at ASU has a variety of stimulating events planned for the fall.

If you happened to pass near a downtown Phoenix coffee house on an evening back in April of this year, you may have heard the voices of an impassioned discussion about the future of technology and society.

Another night, if you happened to be walking by a particular church also in downtown Phoenix, you may have seen a stream of people leave the building, all seemingly enlightened and still chattering away with others about the discussion they had just participated in about how we raise boys in our society.

On a Saturday early morning, if you happened to be near the 12th Avenue sidewalk between Jefferson and Madison Streets, you may have seen several tables, a trailer hitched to a truck, two long lines of people, and other individuals folding clothing, then guiding, one by one, the lines of people through the clothes, shoes, blankets, toiletries, and bags – all for free.  

This is the work of ASU Project Humanities, an award-winning university initiative founded by Ahwatukee professor Neal A. Lester eight years ago.

His organization has created opportunities for provocative, relevant, balanced, and quality discussions and events that reach across disciplines, communities, and generations to engage in “talking, listening, and connecting.”

Lester, foundation professor of English at ASU, said, “To witness the excitement of this initiative from others is so gratifying. When we have our enthusiasts, volunteers, and supporters coming to us to collaborate, that means that we are doing some good work that is both important and visible.”

Project Humanities’ fall 2018 events kick off with a world café titled “Conversations on Gender and Violence: What’s Missing?” It will explore the realities and complexities of gender-based violence, considering different perspectives through table discussions and knowledgeable facilitators.

 Other events this fall include “The Bell that Tolls: A Conversation on Death and Dying” and “Dispelling the Myths: Living with Trauma and PTSD.”  

The format of Project Humanities programs is as varied as its diverse audiences, Lester said.

For instance, the upcoming “Dispelling the Myths: Drag Queens and Drag Kings” showcases local drag performers.

In “Vital Voices: Social Justice Pearls and Gems,” attendees share their favorite passage, song, photograph, personal story, performance, poem, artifact, or the lick that connects them personally with social justice.

“The opportunity to offer diverse programs allows us to engage different audiences and in different venues across the Valley,” Lester continues.

Connecting with Project Humanities’ ongoing bimonthly Service Saturday homeless outreach, a film screening of “Angels of Our Better Nature” will be followed by a conversation with the film director Douglas Proce and other local organizations supporting individuals experiencing homelessness.

The organization’s annual Hacks for Humanity hackathon for social good is expected to draw several hundred individuals Oct. 6-7.

It brings together coders, entrepreneurs, humanists, designers, artists, students, faculty, professionals and others “to network, innovate, create and have fun building technologies that improve and support the quality of human life.”

Information: or 480-727-7030.  

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