May O. Lee

Honorary Degrees

California State University, Sacramento

May O. Lee has been a pillar in the community since moving to Sacramento in 1975. She is the founder director of Asian Resources, Inc. (ARI) and she has dedicated her personal and professional life to community service.  

In 1980, the National Institute for Mental Health funded a special program at Sacramento State for Asian American community leaders to earn a master’s degree in social work. While a student in that program, Ms. Lee recognized that the burgeoning Asian immigrant and refugee communities had critical needs for job assistance, English classes, youth and senior programs, and health education. She helped evolve the Asian Resource Center Senior Services into a nonprofit that could meet all of these needs, and became its founding director in 1981 and served in this role until 2006.  

Ms. Lee helped to establish and coordinate Sacramento’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. March and Diversity Expo. In 1988 she worked with other local activists to rename a major Sacramento street Martin Luther King Junior Blvd. She was also instrumental in starting My Sister’s House (MSH) in 2000, which serves Asian and Pacific Islander (API) and other underserved women and children impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. MSH has expanded to include My Sister’s Café, a social enterprise to support MSH job training programs, as well as the MSH Housing First program to assist survivors to secure stable housing.  

In 2014, in response to funding disparities in API communities, Ms. Lee co-founded the APIs Rise Fund, a local giving circle comprised of philanthropists and community leaders dedicated to building and strengthening the next generation of Asian American and Pacific Islander leadership for the Sacramento region. Since its inception, APIs Rise Fund has raised and given more than $150,000 to community groups dedicated to AAPI civic engagement and leadership building. Ms. Lee also led the organization’s efforts to fight discrimination against, and promote pride and civic engagement in, the AAPI LGBTQ community. APIs Rise Fund currently focuses on funding organizations that address anti-Asian hate and that confront and root out anti-Black racism in the AAPI community. 

Ms. Lee was actively involved in every U.S. Census since 1990, working to develop thoughtful outreach strategies that reflect the unique needs of local communities, including ensuring hard-to-count populations are identified and meaningfully engaged in being counted, which is vital to everyone in the Sacramento region. Most recently, Ms. Lee was part of the Sacramento Complete Steering Committee for the 2020 Census.  

Ms. Lee and her husband, Milt Yee, established an endowment at Sacramento State which is aimed at providing support for students who show exceptional promise as community services leaders. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Lee could be found distributing food to families in need, staffing vaccine clinics in South Sacramento, speaking out against inhuman immigration policies and organizing against anti-Asian hate and violence.  

In recognition of her dedication to community service, decades of support to underserved Asian groups and patronage to the campus, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and the California State University, Sacramento are proud to confer upon May O. Lee the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.