Because I was not one to shy away from trying just about anything at least once, that attitude in my "Before Being Mormon" days often led me to places and into circumstances I later regretted.
However, on occasion that daring attitude greatly benefited me by launching me into new worlds of ideas, associations and relationships that altered the course of my life. Such was the case when I first allowed two LDS missionaries to teach me about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Such is the desired result I seek as I make my initial foray into the world of blogging. I feel both a humbling sense of potential failure and a vain tinge of powerful possibility as I do so.
I recognize no one may care about what I think or have to say. Yet, based upon the positive reaction to my recently released book, “Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon,” I have the swagger to believe enough people will consistently find my thoughts interesting and worthwhile.
In truth, my bravado stems from my pre-Mormon days while a student at North Carolina State University. There, while part of a small contingent of blacks at the school, I joined a traditional black fraternity (Kappa Alpha Psi or KA?) and later became a disc jockey on State’s college radio station WKNC-FM.
To order to join my fraternity, I had to pledge at St. Augustine’s College, a neighboring black school in Raleigh, N.C., because at the time there was no KA? chapter at State. Because I was the only pledge from State among my pledge group of seven, my pledge name was “white boy” for nearly all of my six-week pledge period.
I despised being called “white boy,” especially while receiving “instruction” from my big brothers. Thus, when I became a full-fledged Kappa brother, I chose the name “Special K” as my fraternity name to counteract my loathsome pledge name while still recognizing my unique pledge status.
Kappa men have the image of being pretty boys and ladies’ men, a persona which did not come naturally to me because my true self is basically nerdy and academic. I made a major breakthrough, however, when I became a DJ on the WKNC’s R&B “Midnight Affair” program.
The details of doing so are involved, but the quick version is that someone told me I couldn’t achieve it, and nothing disturbs or motivates me more than disbelief in my abilities. As a result of a “manhood challenge,” I earned my FCC license and got my own radio show.
I chose my fraternity name as my radio moniker, and at 3 a.m. on Valentine’s Day 1979, “DJ Special K” was introduced to the listening audience as a fill-in host. I began the show with the singular song appropriate for the occasion, “Love’s Holiday” by Earth, Wind and Fire. It was a slow, sensual ballad that served notice that DJ Special K was going to be an on-air ladies’ man and Raleigh’s “Fox on the Box.”
That summer I became a regular host and I remained on-air until I graduated two years later. Eventually, I dropped the DJ part of my radio name and “Special K” became one of the more popular R&B radio personalities in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle area.
My Special K alter ego was the daring, fearless, creative, witty, smart and the life-of-the-party side of me. I was able to attract the interest of the most beautiful of women and I was the quintessential man’s man — the athletic sports-enthusiast and storyteller who could comfortably dine and talk politics with kings and tycoons or hang out “on the streets” and tell jokes with winos.
For better or worse, Special K’s influence on me began to wane after my graduation from State beginning with my call as an LDS missionary. He did not entirely vanish while I was a 23- and 24-year old in Puerto Rico, but I was determined to keep him in check.
Immediately after my mission, I became the first black student to attend law school at BYU. I especially kept Special K hidden upon arriving in Provo because I had some interracial issues and didn’t want to hurt the feelings of some white girl enthralled by that side of me.
I did bring him “out of the closet” when I met a vivacious Spaniard on campus, and it should be no surprise that we got married and started a family. After law school, I went on active duty with the Navy JAG. We were stationed in San Francisco and I later became a bishop.
Balancing being Keefy (my wife’s pet name for me), daddy, Lieutenant Hamilton and Bishop Hamilton was hard enough without adding Special K to the mix, so I “packed him away” as a pleasant memory.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, now of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was the stake president who called and mentored me as a bishop, and although he was and remains a very personable and humorous man, his serious love of the gospel and deep commitment to building the Lord’s kingdom on earth instilled in me a similar sense of soberness for my responsibilities as a husband, father and “common judge in Israel.”
After transferring from Naval Station Treasure Island to Spain, I soon became president of the Rota Spain Servicemen’s Branch, the only English-speaking unit in a newly organized Spanish stake. I continued on my path different from the one I traveled in my college days and Special K.
When I left active duty and returned to Provo to work at BYU, I temporarily resurrected him by DJing ward and stake dances, but not long afterward I became involved in the emotionally heavy-duty world of judging criminals as a member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
My heart-wrenching divorce and the indescribable joy associated with the subsequent temple marriage to my wife, Ludy, followed by the birth of our three boys were all sobering for me as I felt the sting of adversity while experiencing the balm of God’s tender mercies.
My later appointment as board chairman thrust me with considerable naivete into the political arena, which I often found distasteful. It wasn’t until I left the board to concentrate on writing and publishing my book that I regained my equilibrium of "being me," especially as I wrote parts of my life story and realized that the whole of me is greater than the sum of its different parts.
At the start of this year, 25 years after leaving as its first black graduate, I returned to the J. Reuben Clark Law School as an adjunct professor, which brought back memories of the last time I truly celebrated the Special K side of me.
It is as if my life has now come full circle, and with this opportunity to blog about my life experiences and various topics from religion to politics to law and criminal justice to sports to education to entertainment to children to race relations to whatever, I am pleased to announce that Special K is back!
Thus, it is not “out of line” for me as the husband, father, lawyer, military officer, former bishop and faithful Latter-day Saint, I close this introductory piece with a reference to a popular beer commercial, because before I became the person I am today I was just as much a conceited, partying frat boy, DJ, would-be pretty boy and ladies’ man.
In the coming weeks, and hopefully months, as you read my contributions and become more familiar with my views through the eyes and heart my of true soul, both my nerdy, academic, seriously religious side and my Special K-influenced personality, you will inevitably wonder, even with my abstinence from beer and other alcoholic beverages, whether you have found “the most interesting Mormon in the world.”17 comments on this story
You’ll have another chance to make that assessment. Next time I will relate how and why I went from the pinnacle of my pre-Mormon lifestyle as an African-American college student to joining the unlikeliest of religions for a black man, given the LDS Church’s historical relationship with blacks.
Just search for the blog titled “Beyond ordinary” and remember that the blog title represents how I will share with you viewpoints unlike any other, because within the LDS culture, and in life, I am — and have had unique and extraordinary experiences — like no other.
In short, I’m special.
Attorney Keith N. Hamilton, an adjunct professor at BYU law school and former chair of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, served as an LDS bishop in San Francisco. He is author of "Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon."