Campus News

UK MLK Center Commemorates 35 Years on Campus

UK MLK Center
1994 Kentuckian feature on UK MLK Center
UK MLK Cultural Center 2003 Kentuckian
UK MLK Center staff
UK MLK Center
UK Men of Color Symposium
Gerron Hurt at UK
UK MLK Center

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 24, 2021) — This week, the University of Kentucky Martin Luther King (MLK) Center is celebrating 35 years of providing community, a space for advocacy and culturally based education to UK.

To commemorate the occasion, the UK family is invited to take part in a week of special events happening on campus. A full list of the events can be found here, and more information is included below.

“For 35 years, UK’s Martin Luther King Center has served our community as a place to gather and seek support,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “It has developed programs and events that have educated, empowered and connected our campus community. We are grateful for the many ways the MLK Center has made our university an even stronger and more informed institution.”

Looking back

On the UK campus today, there are a variety of services, organizations and spaces available to support students from all backgrounds. But nearly 40 years ago, the campus looked much different.

“In the early 1980s, African American students would gather and spend time within a utility space in the food court area of the original UK Student Center,” said Ja’Mahl McDaniel, director of the MLK Center. “One day, the area was removed, unbeknownst to the students, who had found a sense of comfort gathering in the space.”

The students desired an official space on campus that was affirming to their identities and would help other marginalized students find community on campus. Through protest and conversation with UK officials, the students’ voices were heard. A few years later, the Martin Luther King Center opened its doors on Jan. 19, 1987.

“The office opened in January in alignment with the national MLK Day to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and contribution to equity and inclusion around the world,” McDaniel said. “It was established as the cultural center on campus with the goal of offering historically marginalized students a place to find community and advocacy, and to facilitate culturally/ethnic-based education across the campus community, rooted in King’s philosophy of nonviolent social change.”

The MLK Center today

Since 1987, the office has had different names, but the goal has remained the same: to create a sense of community and belonging for students across diverse identities through multicultural programming, student advocacy and mission.

“(Our students) know when they enter the space, they can engage with staff members and students who will show a genuine concern for who they are and how they are doing,” McDaniel said. “If a student needs encouragement, support with navigating a tough situation or even accountability, whatever we are able to provide a student, we will. We become the village of support that many students need on campus.”

McDaniel, a 2015 UK graduate, discovered that same village for himself as a student. Now, as director of the center, he enjoys being able to give current students the same great experience he had.

“My favorite part about being the director of the office is being able to be a supporter, mentor, advocate and cheerleader for so many students,” he said. “I am encouraged daily by interactions that I have with students and colleagues that genuinely care about improving this community. Being able to recreate an experience that changed my life at UK for current students with an enthusiastic team is also a plus!”

Part of the UK Office for Institutional Diversity, the MLK Center hosts many cultural enrichment programs and initiatives, and has become well known for bringing world-renowned and local activists, speakers, artists, exhibits, creative arts (plays, music showcase, spoken word, poetry), educational leaders and collaborative programs to the UK and Lexington communities.

“The history and essence of our center is rooted in supporting and embracing diverse perspectives on campus,” McDaniel said. “We believe our work bridges students, faculty, staff and community members together towards a more inclusive campus environment, and we are committed to creating globally engaged and culturally competent students who go on to be graduates and leaders in society.”

35th Anniversary Celebration Events

  • Community Organizations Fair —10 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Jan. 25, Gatton Student Center Social Staircase. Co-hosted by the MLK Center and the Center for Service-Learning & Civic Engagement and the Office of Student Organizations & Activities in the UK Office for Student Success, this fair is an opportunity for UK students who are interested in volunteering and working with local organizations that directly support communities of color within the city of Lexington. Over 30 community organizations will be present to share more about the work they are doing in the community and how you can get engaged with them.  
  • My Brother’s Keeper & Sister Circle Welcome Back Game Night — 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, Cats Den. Join us as we kick off the semester in community with a game night full of “minute to win it” games that are sure to bring out your inner competitor. Through community building experiences and thoughtful dialogue, the My Brother’s Keeper and Sister Circle programs create supportive environments for undergraduate and graduate students who identify as men or women of color to thrive as they navigate UK. Both programs meet bi-weekly.  
  • Plated Discussions — 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, White Hall Classroom Building Room 212. Our monthly dialogue series returns for its first installment of the spring semester. Co-facilitated by the MLK Center and Underground Perspective, Plated Discussions serve as an opportunity to engage in critical dialogue around current & diverse issues.  
  • MLK Center Legacy Luncheon & Awards Ceremony — 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, Gatton Student Center Ballroom B (REGISTRATION NOW CLOSED). The luncheon will be a community celebration of the 35th anniversary of the MLK Center. The inaugural Living Legacy Awards aim to highlight and honor members of our campus community who actively embody the work and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through their leadership and community engagement efforts. Space for this event is limited and an RSVP is required to attend. 

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.