Sun Devils making a difference in your neighborhood

Largest philanthropic event of the year brings ASU students together, committed to make a change

April 5, 2017

For the fourth consecutive year, Arizona State University partnered with the Valley of the Sun United Way to present Sun Devils UNITE on March 31 through April 9 across four of ASU’s campuses, raising awareness and money for Arizona’s most underserved populations.

Students learn that it is important to be a good neighbor and take responsibility for the overall health of the surrounding community. Sun Devils have contributed more than 1.8 million hours of community service. Students do service projects as part of Devils in Disguise Freshman sports journalism major Keaton Milburn talks with Jaslyn Ravenscraft before their service project at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul main campus. Students filled pill bottles with single-use servings of shampoo and conditioner for those who visit St. Vincent de Paul. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now Download Full Image

“Community service is so important because it gives students the opportunity to connect with the problems in their community and be a part of a solution,” said junior and Devils in Disguise chair Erica Balderas. “It allows students and student organizations to create partnerships with local nonprofits, and it allows students to meet people they would not normally meet and get outside of their college bubble. It makes people feel more a part of their communities.”

The Sun Devils UNITE weeklong humanitarian events are hosted by student organizations to raise awareness among the ASU community and focus on challenges facing surrounding communities. This year’s goal? To raise $150,000 through the series of events hosted this week including Buffalo Wild Wings Percentage Day on Wednesday in Tempe, where 10 percent of the proceeds will go towards the fundraising goal, and the Bleed Maroon Blood Drive at POST I San Carlos at noon Thursday at the Downtown Phoenix campus.

The Sun Devils UNITE week kicked off with Devils in Disguise, the largest student-led day of service at ASU. In its 17th year, student organizations participate in this project by hosting volunteer sites, engaging and encouraging their fellow Sun Devils to sign up and devote a Saturday to serving the local community.

“Events like Devils in Disguise are important because they add to the ASU experience, and it brings students from different majors, ages, backgrounds and clubs together to celebrate the culture of service at ASU. Events like this make me feel proud to be a Sun Devil,” Balderas said.

On April 1, approximately 820 students from Phoenix metropolitan campus locations and the Lake Havasu location deployed to more than 55 volunteer sites. Students helped serve their community in different capacities at organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, Thew Elementary in Tempe and the Exceptional Rodeo and Spring Fair in Lake Havasu.

Lake Havasu students were part of the Exceptional Rodeo and Spring Fair. The event was sponsored by HoofBeats from Heaven, who help improve well-being through horse therapy and related activities, and Milemarker’s Therapy Clinic, focused on family-oriented and play-based speech and occupational therapy. All student volunteers were hands-on, assisting in booth set-up and staffing booths and activities.

Balderas added that signature events like the one this past weekend allow students to find ways to further their involvement with Changemaker Central — a community of students leading social change in the local and global community — and any of the nonprofits served on Saturday.

The purpose of the week is to connect students and partner with Valley of the Sun United Way to accomplish a range of goals: improving the quality of education, combating hunger and homelessness and assisting children and families across the Valley. It also encourages students to get involved in philanthropic events year-round.

“Devils in Disguise is something every student should participate in at least once during their time in college,” Balderas said. “We have numerous projects to accommodate the different interests of the student body. Students who are hesitant to participate should join in anyway and bring their friends. They can even make new friends while participating in a great cause.”

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Unveiling 'Humanity' — a musical plea for tolerance, peace, empathy and creativity

Motown legend Bobby Taylor finishes work of rock legend Dick Wagner for ASU.
New song will debut at Project Humanities-led event on Friday in Tempe.
April 5, 2017

ASU Project Humanities will unveil its new theme song, 'Humanity (Love is in the Air),' at free concert this week in Tempe

Neal Lester is quite aware of how music and social movements can bring people together in divisive times, but when rock guitarist Dick Wagner penned an original tune for Humanity 101Humanity 101 is a comprehensive effort that Project Humanities organizers say promotes and sustains a robust dialogue and understanding between individuals and across communities about seven values that impact all human interactions and behaviors across disciplines. They are compassion, empathy, forgiveness, integrity, kindness, respect and self-reflection. , the power of that moment didn’t immediately register.

“Actually, we didn’t want a song, and there was never an ask,” said Lester, founding director of ASU’s Project Humanities and foundation professor of English. “Eventually, it occurred to me, ‘Absolutely we need a song!’ But the song came before there was an awareness for the need of a song.”

Now, “Humanity (Love is in the Air)”, a plea for tolerance, peace, empathy and creativity, will serve as Humanity 101’s official theme music. (Hear a sample below.)

Recorded and produced by Motown’s Bobby Taylor, the new tune will be the centerpiece of Project Humanities' “Music and Social Movements Concert: The Unveiling of Humanity (Love is in the Air)” at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Tempe’s Sun Studios of Arizona.

The free concert will feature music by local bands, a spoken word performance, a behind-the-scenes video of the making of “Humanity (Love is in the Air)” and a brief presentation by Don GuilloryGuillory is also an affiliate faculty of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and the author of “The Token Black Guide: Navigations Through Race in America." on the history of music and social movements.

Guillory, a history instructor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, said music is a powerful tool to convey messages and spark emotion. 

“Through much of this history of mankind, music and musical expression have helped facilitate communication, whether it was on the battlefield or demonstrating social strife to a wider audience,” Guillory said. He added that music tells the stories of people who are seeking inclusion and appropriate representation in the American landscape.

“Music can help explain grievances due to its unique ability to touch the soul of a person,” Guillory said.

Lester said he's already caught a glimpse of how “Humanity (Love is in the Air)” has affected people.

“When we recorded ‘Humanity,' people were in tears by the end of the session,” Lester said. “It wasn’t tears of exhaustion, but tears of joy because they were continuing the legacy of someone else’s work.”

Lester is referring to Wagner's legacy. Known as the "Maestro of Rock" for his collaborations with Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Kiss and Lou Reed, Wagner wrote and recorded a demo of the song shortly after meeting Lester for lunch in spring 2014. He died months later after years of declining health, and the song went unfinished.

For his part, Lester wouldn’t give up on the work. At the insistence of Wagner’s manager, Susan Michelson, Lester reached out to producer Bobby Taylor in Hong Kong to see if he'd be interested in flying to Arizona to finish the song. Taylor hadn't been in the states since 2009, but an honorarium by the Puffin West Foundation helped make it happen.

The 82-year-old Taylor became known for discovering Michael Jackson and working with Jimi Hendrix, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and the Temptations. He also fronted Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, a Canadian band that charted a handful of soul and R&B songs.

Over a four-day period in October, Taylor led a group of about 20 singers and musicians — including three members of ASU’s Gospel Choir — at Well Spring Studios in Phoenix and Sun Studios of Arizona in Tempe to finish the song.

Michelson said Wagner would have been pleased.

“He would have loved the finished product and found it inspiring,” Michelson said. “Dick would have also enjoyed collaborating with Bobby Taylor.”

Lester said with the contentious and divisive 2016 presidential election in the rearview mirror, “Humanity (Love is in the Air)” resonates much stronger today than when it was written.

“The song asks us to shed our vanity and humble ourselves by taking a risk by being vulnerable,” Lester said. “Helping someone and stepping outside of ourselves is acknowledging vulnerability and that's the risk of our individual and shared humanity.”


To RSVP or register for “Music and Social Movements Concert: The Unveiling of Humanity (Love is in the Air)” go here.

For more information, call 480-727-7030 or visit


Top photo: Producer Bobby Taylor gives notes to musicians as they prepare to record the song created for Project Humanities entitled "Humanity (Love is in the Air)", in Phoenix on Oct. 17, 2016. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now