A Ph.D. student responds to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing portable hand-washing stations to the homeless in Atlanta

Terence Lester saw a need. He anticipated that the coronavirus could rage among the homeless population because of the lack of handwashing facilities.

Lecrae and Terence deliver portable hand washing station.

Lecrae and Terence deliver portable hand washing station.

His idea was to put portable handwashing stations throughout Atlanta, but he only had the resources for one. That’s when Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae called and asked how he could help. Together they have put 15 sinks throughout the Atlanta area where the homeless are concentrated.

Lester, working towards his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Public Policy & Social Change, is also a minister and draws a parallel between washing hands and Jesus’s actions of washing feet. “We have a responsibility to help others with dignity and humility. Jesus said, ‘I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’”

Homeless man uses new portable hand washing station

Homeless man uses new portable hand washing station

Lester and his wife Cecilia founded Love Beyond Walls in Atlanta in 2013 to advocate for the invisible and voiceless. “Our vision is to provide dignity to the homeless and poor by providing a voice, visibility, shelter, community, and grooming and support services to achieve self-sufficiency.”

The nonprofit provides many services.

The Lester Family

The Lester Family

“We provide mobile makeovers to the underserved, temporary shelter, groceries for 300 to 500 families a month, clothing for the community and students, free laundry services, free water bins for those who don’t have running water, awareness campaigns to educate the community, a leadership program, and we work with other organizations in other countries to solve problems.”

His advocacy for the poor was highlighted in the Coca-Cola “History Shakers” Black History Month campaign.

He also launched the “Dignity Museum,” this past January. The museum is housed in a shipping container with the flexibility to be a traveling exhibit. The interactive experience immerses the visitor in the feeling of being trapped in poverty. Lester hopes the museum dispels stereotypes of homelessness and galvanizes people to action. One visitor explained that she lives paycheck to paycheck and could see how homelessness could happen to the average person.

Lester, a scholar practitioner, chose Union to pursue his doctorate on a recommendation. “I was teaching a class on the evil of poverty for Morehouse professor Dr. Vicki Crawford. I had chosen another university for my Ph.D. when Dr. Crawford encouraged me to check out Union,” said Lester. “I was so impressed with Union and its social justice mission and the opportunity to supplement the Public Policy & Social Change major with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Studies Specialization.”

Also important was the opportunity to take courses online.

“Union offers distance learning which greatly appealed to me because of my responsibilities and my need to work fulltime. That, coupled with two residencies and similar-minded students, made Union the perfect choice for me.”

He is fulfilling a lifetime dream by pursuing his Ph.D.

“Education saved my life. I was a high school dropout. I know education changes lives because it changed mine.”

Lester is also an activist, speaker, and author of four books. His most recent is “I See You.”

But he describes himself as a husband and father first.

“I credit my wife Cecilia and our two children, Zion Joy and Terence II, for their continuing support. Together we continually raise awareness and mobilize an army of people who dare to get involved in breaking down barriers and dreaming up new solutions.”

Let us know what you are doing in response to the coronavirus pandemic by emailing Teresa Wilkins at Teresa.Wilkins@myunion.edu.