“Social impact work was not a choice. It found me.” That’s how Terence Lester opened his acceptance remarks for the 2020 American Express NGen Leadership Award during Upswell 2020. Selected from among a pool of more than 80 nominees considered by Independent Sector staff and our Selection Committee, Terence is founder and executive director of Love Beyond Walls, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that provides dignity to the homeless and poor by offering a voice, visibility, shelter, community, and grooming and support services to achieve self-sufficiency.
Independent Sector presents the award annually to one emerging leader age 40 and under whose innovative, collaborative leadership is accelerating transformative social and community change. As the 2020 award recipient, Terence received an honorarium intended to support his work and/or further his leadership development. In addition to delivering a Main Stage acceptance speech, he also participated with the other five award finalists in sessions featured at Upswell 2020.
During his acceptance speech, Terence said we are all challenged to see vulnerable communities in proximity and to engage. “COVID has targeted Black and Brown communities as affected in areas of health, technology, and nutrition. We cannot turn away. We must see and address these issues until they are resolved.”
Award Design Tradition Continues
It has become an Upswell tradition for the award to be designed by a local artist in the city where Upswell is held. Pittsburgh was to be the 2020 host city, and while those plans were derailed by the pandemic, the tradition carried on, with local Pittsburgh multimedia artist Atiya Jones designing and bringing the award to life. She also expanded her role as an artist amid the pandemic and widespread protests over the death of George Floyd to include mask-making and fundraising.
According to Atiya, this year’s award design incorporates the Upswell “wave” in the center, and uses the hexagon to represent society’s structural/foundational elements, as well as change and transformation. “It is a reference to ‘nuts and bolts,’ a nod to the cultural engineering of our future that we are all participating in.”
Closing out his acceptance remarks, Terence challenged changemakers to “lean into your community. Seek to build and collaborate. Be proximate and present. Choose your struggle, and give your life every day to overcoming that struggle.”