Doctoral Archives - Community | Union Institute & University

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

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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.

A Lifetime of Commitment is Recognized

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Dr. Jackie Young recently honored with the 2016 University of Hawaii Distinguished Alumni Award.

Dr. Jackie Young

Alumnus | Doctoral

Dr. Jackie Young has followed the Union Institute & University mission to engage, enlighten, and empower in a lifetime of learning, service, and social responsibility through championing civil liberties. Her commitment to transform lives and communities was recognized with the first Union Institute & University Presidents Award in 1995. She credits Union for much of her professional success, saying “Union made all the difference.” 

Recently, she was honored by her first alma mater, the University of Hawaii, with the 2016 University of Hawaii Distinguished Alumni Award. The award recognizes outstanding alumni who have used their education to excel professionally, provide inspirational leadership to others, and provide service for the benefit of University of Hawaii and community.

Dr. Young’s remarkable career includes serving as an appointed member of the Hawaii State Judicial Selection Commission, and the Hawaii State Advisory Committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; and as a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge Campaign. On the national level, she is a member of the U.S. Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.

She implemented P.L. 94-142 Education for All Children Act, requiring the deinstitutionalization of children with disabilities for the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (DOE). In 1985, she became the DOE sex equity and Title IX administrator. She also served as adjunct professor at Hawaii Pacific University for 10 years. 

Dr. Young has worked through the political process to make a difference, serving as the chair of the Hawaii Women’s Political Caucus and vice president of the National Women’s Political Caucus. In 1990 she was elected to the State House of Representatives and then elected in 1992 as vice speaker, the first woman to hold that position. She championed issues related to Native Hawaiians, the environment and crimes against women. In 1994, Young was appointed as the state’s affirmative action officer. While undergoing breast cancer treatment and speaking publicly about her experience in 1998, she managed the nation’s first marriage equality campaign, Protect Our Constitution, in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign. She later served as the UH sex equity coordinator. Young became an executive with the American Cancer Society Hawai‘i Pacific in 1999 and retired in 2013 as its chief staff officer. She is a recent kidney cancer survivor.

In addition to her 1989 Ph.D. in Women’s Studies and Communication from Union Institute & University, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Speech Pathology and Audiology from the University of Hawaii and a Master’s in Speech and Special Education from Old Dominion University.

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