Dedicated to the Dream: Kenyatta Shamburger helps Clemson, nation honor Martin Luther King Jr.
By Angela Nixon
The man responsible for Clemson University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration played a role in helping the nation celebrate King with the opening and dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Kenyatta Shamburger, director of student activities in the Gantt Center for Student Life, has been a part of the effort to build the MLK Memorial for years. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., King’s own fraternity and the group that began the movement to memorialize King on the National Mall.
Shamburger serves as the Southern Region executive director for Alpha Phi Alpha, and he was tasked with coordinating logistics for Alpha Phi Alpha’s dedication of the MLK Memorial in August, which more than 2,000 people attended. He was responsible for managing VIP attendees and writing scripts for speakers at the events. As part of the planning team, Shamburger was able to take a hard-hat tour of the memorial in July, before it opened to the public.
“It was just breathtaking,” he said. “I am glad that I had that opportunity, because when we went back in August [for the dedication], my focus was more on how to move 2,000 people from here to there. I was in a logistics mode, and I knew I would not be able to appreciate it in its fullness as I was able to do in July. I was so happy to be able to have some quiet time to walk in that space and embrace that feeling before thousands of people came in.”
Shamburger said the memorial was special to him because his parents participated in the civil rights movement. They did not get to attend the events with him, but he hopes to visit the memorial with them someday.
“Knowing that my parents marched and were a part of that, being able to go to the memorial and knowing the work that had gone into building it and what it symbolized was powerful for me,” he said. “I then began to think about my fraternity brothers, how our members marched with Dr. King or knew Dr. King personally … knowing lives were lost in the movement, knowing the struggle that many had for equality, to see this tangible symbol of that time was very moving.”
Shamburger wants to bring a part of that experience to Clemson as he coordinates the University’s 2012 MLK Celebration. The speaker for this year’s celebration is Harry Johnson, president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation, which raised the funds to build the memorial.
“I’m excited, and I’m hoping that Harry’s address will help bring this memorial to life for people at Clemson and inspire them to want to go see this monument and, in their own way, connect with history,” Shamburger said.
Shamburger has coordinated the Clemson MLK Celebration since he came to the University in 2006. He has helped bring in speakers ranging from Barbara Cross, a survivor of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., to Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He sees Clemson’s MLK Celebration as a way to educate students about the history of the civil rights movements and the sacrifices made by past generations.
“To have the opportunity to have men and women who have had very direct connections to the civil rights movement and/or Dr. King really puts some of the things that many of us have studied in school or read in books into context. It helps history to come alive,” Shamburger said. “Unfortunately, I think with each generation moving further and further away from the movement, we’re losing some of the opportunity to interact with some of these icons.”
The MLK Celebration will run Jan. 16-19, and while Johnson’s keynote address (Jan. 17) is the highlight of the celebration, there are several other events planned as well, including the annual MLK Day of Service (Jan. 16), a Diversity Dialogue (Jan. 18) and the Tunnel of Oppression (Jan. 19).
“The MLK Celebration provides an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to come together around an important historical topic and interact, learn and hopefully take something away that they can apply as they interact with others,” Shamburger said. “Hopefully there is something that is said or done through these events that people can take away to make their lives richer from being a part of this celebration.”