A respected community activist and public scholar, Terence Lester was honored with the Author of the Year Award by Black Christian Influencers (BCI) at its honors event in Atlanta on May 10. Lester was recognized for his two most recent books: All God’s Children and Zion Learns to See, an IVP Kids title coauthored with his daughter, Zion Lester.

Jacqueline Horbrook, founder and CEO of BCI, said, “Terence Lester was voted as the winner by over one thousand of his peers and influencers. He has shown himself to be an author for the generation that speaks truth with pure intent and vulnerability.”

Through online community building, BCI aims to unite the kingdom by empowering the marginalized voice. The network of influencers connects people from all professional backgrounds and supports individuals, like Lester, who are making an impact in the world.

“I believe the work that Jackie Horbrook is doing with BCI is critically important,” Lester said. “She has created a platform that not only showcases Black leaders who strive to glorify God through their digital presence, but she is also deeply connected to the culture and intentionally creating space for those yet to be discovered by the world. I was both grateful and honored to receive an award and to participate in a panel discussion with several colleagues who are doing significant work in the realm of faith and justice.”                                         

Lester says that he is driven by three ideals: (1) anyone can make a difference, (2) we don’t live forever, and (3) it’s worth dedicating one’s life to ensuring no one feels invisible. His books convey these themes.

In All God’s Children: How Confronting Buried History Can Build Racial Solidarity Lester shares the history of the struggles that Black people have faced against unjust systems, paving the way for the church to move beyond showing support from a distance toward long-term solidarity, advocacy, and friendship. He tells powerful stories of courage, injustice, pain, and triumph, including ones from his own history.

In Zion Learns to See: Opening Our Eyes to Homelessness Lester and Zion set out to mobilize young people to serve and notice those who often get overlooked in their communities. Inspired by real events, this children’s book allows kids and adults to learn with Zion about people experiencing homelessness and see how she is moved to respond as she recognizes that all people matter to God. Terence Lester said, “This project represents more than just another book project; it’s a deeply felt journey of embedding crucial life lessons in our children, with the hope that such empathy is shared with other children too.”

Having experienced homelessness and poverty himself, Lester is committed to seeing and writing about those who often go unnoticed. At the age of sixteen, Terence was a high school dropout and a member of a gang. A rebellious teen, he lived on the streets and even attempted to take his own life. At twenty, he was arrested. In jail Lester met a man who talked to him about life decisions. By the start of the following year, Lester had committed to share his testimony to change the lives of others.

Today Lester is the founder of Love Beyond Walls, a not-for-profit organization focused on poverty awareness and community mobilization. He received his PhD in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in public policy and social change from Union Institute and University. His campaigns on behalf of the poor, including #LoveSinksIn (which provides handwashing stations for the poor), have been featured in USA TodayBlack Enterprise, and Reader’s Digest. They have been viewed by millions of people globally on The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS News, NBC, Upworthy, and “The Bright Side” with Katie Couric. He was also named by Coca-Cola as one of their History Shakers.

Lester has also received numerous awards for his community activism, including the National Urban League Humanitarian Award, Brawny Giant Award, the American Express NextGen Award, the SCLC Social Advocacy Award, Atlanta Voice’s 50 Under 50, the True to Atlanta Award presented by the Atlanta Hawks, Fulton County Schools Service Award, and Plywood People’s Innovator Award.

Lester’s other books include When We StandI See YouGetting Past StuckSimple Prayers for Hurting People, and Identity Theft. His forthcoming book, From Dropout to Doctorate (IVP), will release in Winter 2025. Lester has also coproduced a biographical documentary based on his book The U-Turn Project: Answering the Call.

Al Hsu, associate editorial director at IVP, said, “In the space of five years, Terence wrote three nonfiction books and one children’s book—in the midst of a pandemic and medical challenges while completing his PhD! He’s a tenacious, passionate, hardworking author who has not let adversity prevent him from writing what God has called him to write. Congratulations to Terence on this well-deserved honor.”