Beyond Ordinary: Special K: From 'partying frat guy' to faithful Mormon

Published: Wednesday, July 20 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

From left, Elder Keven Burton, Keith Hamilton, Elder Bret LeSuere and Elder Scott Stevenson on Hamilton's baptism day, Aug. 24, 1980.

Provided by Keith Hamilton

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In my introductory article, I introduced readers to my alter ego, “Special K,” while suggesting that I was perhaps “The Most Interesting Mormon in the World.”

So how did I go from a partying frat guy and R&B disc jockey to a faithful Latter-day Saint, returned missionary and former bishop.

Frankly, I was blindsided by the Holy Spirit.

As August 1980 began, I was at the top of my game as an African-American college student in the South. I was 22 years old and legal to enjoy the adult beverages of my choice. My radio program on North Carolina State's college station aired twice a week, and I had a successful DJ business doing dances and occasional nightclub parties and events. Fraternity life was great, and my dream of helping to establish a Kappa Alpha Psi chapter at State was realized during the fall semester.

My best and closest female friend was one of the most beautiful women in Raleigh. I was active on campus as a master of ceremonies for several black cultural events and was involved in other black affairs issues. Best of all, I earned a position as a starter on State's club football team, the school's former JV team before it became a Title IX casualty.

And going into my final year as a fifth-year senior, I only needed a couple of classes to graduate. I looked forward to finishing my last summer at State with a bang before moving on to my final fun-filled year of college.

But things didn’t go exactly as planned, mainly because of two young men from Utah and Idaho.

One afternoon in early August while I was “chillin’” in my duplex apartment trying to beat the heat and humidity of a sweltering summer day in North Carolina, the two elders came to my door. I didn’t know beforehand they were Mormon missionaries. Had I known I probably would not have invited them in. I thought they were salesmen.

As soon as they got to my door I could tell they were strangers to the South, as both seemed unusually bothered by the humid weather. The huskier one, who I later learned had just arrived a few days earlier from the Missionary Training Center in Provo, was sweating like a pig in a bacon factory. So without asking them anything, I immediately waved them in and went to my kitchen to get them some ice water. While preparing it, I yelled to them, “Hey, what are you selling?” In response, I heard “Jesus Christ,” something I was not expecting and did not want to hear.

I took them the water anyway, and as I gave it to them one of them told me they were representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because I often played the church’s "Homefront" series public service announcements on my radio show — they were the best PSAs out at the time — I knew they were “the Mormons!” Based on rumors I had heard about the church and its feelings toward blacks, I thought they would drink the water and quickly leave.

I was surprised when they asked me if I had time to listen to a short message. I couldn’t lie and say I didn’t have the time, so instead I tried to dissuade them by saying that I thought Mormons didn’t recruit blacks into their church. The apparent lead missionary told me that had "changed a couple of years ago.” I agreed to hear their message, but not before getting my frat brother/roommate to join me as backup.

I won’t go into the details of that first discussion (it’s covered in my book), but I wasn’t favorably impressed. In fact, I thought it was the most absurd religious message I had ever heard: All kinds of beings coming from the heavens (including God and Jesus as supposedly separate personages in the form of man, and John the Baptist — with his head intact!) to the most common of boys with the most common of names; gold plates hidden in a hill in New York, inscribed in an ancient and unknown language, yet somehow translated by the nearly illiterate boy into a book considered by Mormons as scripture similar to the Bible; prophets and apostles living on the earth today. Yeah, right!

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