Everyday heroes in your community serving as an inspiration to the people whose lives they touch — this is the heart and soul of the Essence of Humanity Award.

Crispus Attucks Community Center (CACC) on Monday will honor Dr. Rita Smith-Wade-El of Lancaster through the Essence of Humanity Award Program. The awards will be presented at CACC’s 27th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast to be held Monday, January 19, from 7-9 a.m. at Franklin & Marshall College Alumni Sports & Fitness Center.

The Essence of Humanity Award is intended to recognize individuals who, beyond the requirements of their work, demonstrate remarkable human qualities including courage, love, strength, determination, and persistence when dealing with adversity. The award also honors those who demonstrate a spirit of caring and provide inspiration to such individuals on a daily basis.

About Rita Smith-Wade-El (source: nomination by Patricia Hopson-Shelton)

Dr. Rita Smith-Wade-El is a professor of Psychology and African American Studies at Millersville University, where she created the African American Studies program. She has worked closely with the Women’s Studies Department and also has been instrumental in creating the Latino Studies minor at Millersville.

Born in Washington, D.C., to a cab driver and a domestic servant, Smith-Wade-El has been overcoming the odds and confounding expectations for over six decades. Although her mother could neither read nor write, she excelled as a student in our nation’s segregated capital in the fifties and sixties. Although her father only completed the eighth grade, she won Washington’s citywide science fair in her own eighth grade year. She would later go on to college at the Ivy-league level, achieving highly at both Columbia and the University of Penn.

Smith-Wade-El’s tenure at Millersville University has been extraordinary, changing the face of the University and the lives of the many students who have passed through her office. Many of her students say, “Rita changed my life, I wouldn’t have graduated without her.”

Away from Millersville University, Smith-Wade-El is well-known for her community involvement. The list of her service engagements is too long to fully list here, but she does work with the NAACP, the School District of Lancaster, the Lancaster Council of Churches, the YWCA, Bright Side Baptist Opportunities Center, and the Diocese of Harrisburg. She coordinates her church’s involvement in the LCC’s Community Meal, providing food and warmth the less fortunate. She is Education Chair for the NAACP and has acted as such for the Lancaster Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Smith-Wade-El is selfless in her efforts for these and other organizations and has always striven to serve the underserved, particularly people of color, the poor and the mentally ill, with whom she works as part of her involvement with Compeer.

Rita Smith-Wade-El’s life and work has always been about putting the needs of others before her own needs. She has persisted in the face of disease, loss, and turmoil, and in the face of those who have told her “she couldn’t” since she was no older than eight years old.

About Essence of Humanity

There seems to be consensus that as a culture, we often can’t identify enough role models. The intent of the Essence of Humanity Award is to elevate the stories of the inspirational role models that indeed do exist in our communities. The program began in 2001 when business and community leaders in South-Central Pennsylvania established the Essence of Humanity Award. The award is presented by participating organizations in collaboration with the Essence of Humanity program’s steering committee, which evaluates the nominations. For more information, contact Robin Stauffer, Executive Director, at 717-293-4498, or visit the website at www.essenceofhumanity.org.

About Crispus Attucks Community Center


The mission of Crispus Attucks Community Center is to improve the quality of life for residents, provide services to disadvantaged people, bridge cultural and educational gaps that exist, and preserve the African American heritage in the community. More information is available at www.cacc-lancaster.org.