August 26, 2020 | By: Jenny Wells-Hosley

The University of Kentucky has chosen Ja’Mahl McDaniel to be the new director of the UK Martin Luther King Center. He will begin the position Sept. 1.

McDaniel has served as interim director of the center since former director Jason Brooks was named executive director for institutional engagement earlier this year. Prior to that, McDaniel had served as associate director of the center since 2018.

“I am very pleased that Ja’Mahl McDaniel has accepted the challenge to serve as director of the MLK Center," said George Wright, interim vice president for institutional diversity. "A UK alum who has an understanding of UK’s history and present condition, McDaniel  brings a wealth of experience and a caring personality to the position. Our entire community will benefit from his leadership in this very important and visible position.”

Originally from Louisville, McDaniel came to UK in 2011 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in community and leadership development in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. During his time at UK, McDaniel served in a number of student organizations and campus initiatives, including Black Student Union, MANNRS, Black Voices, Student Activities Board, the National Panhellenic Council, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated and Resident Life. He also received a number of academic and leadership awards.

“I found a sense of community at UK through campus involvement, the support offered from student affairs mentors (now colleagues), and services provided by the Martin Luther King Center,” McDaniel said.

After graduating from UK in 2015, McDaniel went on to earn a master’s in higher education/student affairs from The Ohio State University in 2017. Following graduation, McDaniel became a program coordinator for the Intercultural Center at Wake Forest University. In April 2018, he returned to UK to serve as associate director for the MLK Center — the same center that had shaped so much of his early college experience. 

"The Martin Luther King Center was my home away from home and is now a home for many current and future students,” McDaniel said.

As associate director, McDaniel coordinated and supported the programmatic efforts of the center alongside his professional and student staff. Now, as he transitions into the role of director, McDaniel says he is enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue supporting the mission and vision of the center.

“I hope to enhance the overall sense of belonging for students of diverse backgrounds and facilitate enrichment experiences for the campus at large,” he said. "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is and should be everyone's job, but I am glad that through this role I will be able to help lead the charge towards providing spaces for dialogue, education and opportunities to dive deeper in this work.”

Serving the entire university, UK’s MLK Center director is responsible for strategic oversight of many of the most integral institutional initiatives focused on diversity, inclusion and belonging that impact thousands of students, faculty, staff and other community members each year. The director plays a key role in the recruitment, retention and graduation of UK’s diverse student populations and collaborates with faculty and staff to support a welcoming and sustaining campus climate.

Working from the most state-of-the-art inclusion-focused center in the country, the MLK Center director regularly interfaces with and contributes to national social justice dialogues. With the vision and temperament to collaborate effectively and efficiently with other institutional diversity directors and key stakeholders across the campus and Commonwealth, the director fosters new and expanded intercultural and cross-cultural dialogues.