By Jeff Murphy, December 3, 2018
From left to right: Sentwali Aiyetoro, Burnele Venable Powell and Kenneth Kamaul J. King
WARRENSBURG, MO – With one award to be given posthumously, three former University of Central Missouri students who dedicated their college and professional careers to justice will be honored during commencement weekend, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7-8 in the Multipurpose Building. Their recognition is part of ceremonies in which approximately 1,000 students are eligible to participate, having completed requirements for graduate and undergraduate degrees.
Commencement weekend begins with the graduate ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday. Degrees will be conferred upon undergraduates during two ceremonies on Saturday. The morning ceremony at 10 a.m. includes graduates from the Adrian and Margaret Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies and the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. At 2 p.m. the university will recognize graduates of the College of Health, Science, and Technology and the College of Education. University President Roger Best will present the commencement address in all three ceremonies. Degree requirements have been met by 306 individuals in graduate programs and 705 students have met requirements for undergraduate degrees, according to the Office of the Registrar.
Special recognition is planned for the 10 a.m. ceremony on Saturday in which the university will bestow Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees upon UCM alumni, Sentwali Talib Minka Aiyetoro, who was residing in Texas when he passed away Feb. 22, 2017; Kenneth Kamau J. King, Lithonia, Ga.; and Burnele Venable Powell, Lexington, S.C.
The honorary doctorate is bestowed by the authority of the university’s Board of Governors upon individuals who have distinguished themselves through outstanding service and exemplary achievements within their fields of endeavor. Each award recipient attended the university in the mid- to late-1960s. As members of the education community, they challenged the status quo by standing up for justice and racial equality, qualities they carried into their professional lives. Their persistence in seeking justice for individuals and the pursuit of opportunities to improve other people’s lives eventually led them into careers in law and service activities that benefit people in the United States and across the globe. By their actions, they set an example for others to emulate, deemed worthy of recognition by their alma mater.
Attending what was then known as Central Missouri State College, Aiyetoro came to campus after graduating from Central High School in Kansas City under his given name, David Walter Brown. He later changed his name in the mid-1970s to reflect his intended path as someone who is willing to fight against injustice, particularly for those who are disenfranchised, and is a seeker of knowledge and peace.
Aiyetoro demonstrated uncommon valor and earned the nickname, “Solo,” as a one-man-line pledging the Zeta Gamma Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in spring of 1967. He also co-founded the Association of Black Collegians (ABC) to ensure the equitable participation of black students in college life. While attending Central Missouri, Aiyetoro was a strong voice for equitable treatment of African American students, which helped pave the way for future change on campus. He was expelled as the result of a” sit-in” in the president’s office, and was not allowed to walk across the commencement stage, but he received his Bachelor of Science degree with honors in Criminal Justice in 1969.
After receiving his college diploma, his motivation to fight against injustices led Aiyetoro to the University of Kansas School of Law, where he co-founded the Black Law Students Association to support the needs of black law students and effectuate change in the community. Upon earning his Juris Doctorate in 1972, Aiyetoro accepted a fellowship with the Legal Aid Foundation in Houston, Texas, which allowed him to study for the state’s Bar examination while serving people who did not have the financial means to pay for legal assistance. Aiyetoro’s work for social justice included serving organizations such as Legal Services of North Carolina, Roads and Bridges, and Development Training Institute.
Kenneth Kamaul J. King attended Central Missouri State College from September 1965 to the spring quarter of 1969 when he along with a small group of other students were expelled for trespassing in what was labeled by news media of the time, “The Student Union Incident,” an incident that occurred as students stood up for the right to invite members of a controversial group to speak with them about issues of racial equality.
While studying at Central Missouri, King was a member of the first Alpha Phi Alpha line in 1966, and was a co-founder of the Association of Black Collegians. After leaving campus, King finished his degree in 1970 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He furthered his education by graduating from Howard University School of Law in 1973, which named him “Alumnus of the Year” in 2006. While attending Howard, he worked as a clerk on the staff of Missouri 5th District Congressman Richard Bolling in 1970 and continued his clerkship to U.S. Senator Stuart Symington from 1971 to 1973. After receiving his law degree and passing the Missouri Bar examination, King returned to Kansas City, where he practiced law from 1973-1980. He worked for the U.S. Treasury Department as an Estate and Gift Tax Attorney, then entered private practice, and left his practice in 1977 to join Butler Manufacturing Company as staff attorney. In 1980, he moved to Atlanta to join The Coca-Cola Company as Trademark Staff Counsel. He held other positions in the company that included Senior Trademark Counsel; Senior Managing Counsel West and Northern Africa Divisions of The Coca-Cola Company, and Senior Global Licensing Counsel, a position he held at the time of his retirement in 2010.
Burnele Venable Powell today describes his dismissal from college following the 1969 incident in the student union as only an “interruption” in the life he has dedicated to the pursuit of justice, having studied, taught, and provided leadership at some of the most prestigious universities in the United States. His career in academia and government service spanned 35 years, and includes his most recent position as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Miles and Ann Loadholt Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of South Carolina School of Law. He dedicated 10 years to teaching at the South Carolina institution before his retirement in 2014. Prior to that position, Powell served from 1994-2003 as Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law. His contributions to higher education also include serving as a Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Law from 1979-1994, and serving as a Graduate Law Teaching Fellow at Harvard Law School, where he received his LL.M. degree in 1979. He also has served as visiting professor at the University of Oregon and at Washington University in St. Louis.
In addition to attending UCM, Powell’s education includes a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin Law School. He is a member of Wisconsin and Massachusetts State Bars, and has furthered his profession through contributions of his scholarly works to prominent legal journals published by several nationally known universities.
Powell’s professional career also includes service from 1973-1977 as Associate Regional Counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Boston. He currently spends his time continuing his scholarship and works nationally as a legal consultant and expert witness on matters related to legal ethics.
All three honorees distinguished careers have included service to their professions through their involvement in organizations related to the field of law, civic engagement, religious affiliations, and activities that benefit the communities in which they have lived.