Community, Engagement, Belonging and Access; Student Affairs

NBC News legal analyst Maya Wiley to deliver keynote address for Clemson’s MLK Commemorative Service


CLEMSON – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought until his death for the equity of all people. King’s life was cut short when prison escapee James Earl Ray shot and killed him in 1968 as King stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Fast forward to 2019, and fair treatment remains a bone of contention for many Americans.

Maya Wiley, keynote speaker for Clemson University MLK Commemorative Service
Maya Wiley, keynote speaker for Clemson University MLK Commemorative Service

Maya Wiley knows the issue all too well. Wiley is recognized nationally as a leading legal authority on racial and social justice. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, she will join Clemson University in honoring the life and legacy of King by delivering the keynote address for the MLK Commemorative Service at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts.

Wiley’s speech will be tied to this year’s theme, “This is America: Miseducation, Re-education, Liberation.”

“The 2019 MLK planning committee wanted this year’s celebration to give voice to the experiences of people within the United States who are not often highlighted,” said Kendra Stewart-Tillman, director of the Harvey and Lucinda Gantt Multicultural Center. “Given Maya Wiley’s experience of activism in advancing civil rights, we thought she would be a great choice to serve as the keynote speaker.”

Wiley received her law degree from Columbia University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Dartmouth College.

Kendra Stewart-Tillman speaking to students during the first Clemson Inclusion and Equity's "Let's Talk About It" dialogue series.
Kendra Stewart-Tillman speaking to students during the first Clemson Inclusion and Equity’s “Let’s Talk About It” dialogue series.

Wiley is the senior vice president for social justice and Henry J. Cohen professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School in New York. She also co-chairs the School Diversity Working Group at the New York City Department of Education.

Wiley regularly lends her expertise as a legal analyst and civil rights activist to NBC News and MSNBC news programs. One of the more memorable on-air moments with Wiley happened in 2018 on MSNBC’s “The Beat” with Ari Melber. Wiley advised Sam Nunberg, former political adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, to comply with a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who heads the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Nunberg told Melber and Wiley he wouldn’t go to jail if he didn’t testify.

“I think your family wants you home for Thanksgiving and I think you should testify,” Wiley told Nunberg.

Nunberg later told the Washington Post, Wiley’s advice prompted him to change his mind about cooperating with Mueller.

Ironically, the Trump campaign fired Nunberg for allegedly writing a racially charged post on Facebook.

In a Buzzfeed article, Wiley explained she considered the concern Nunberg’s father had for his son’s well-being. She shared that her father died when she was nine years old.

Wiley told New School News, “I finally realized this poor guy was having a really really hard time and wasn’t actually thinking through what he was doing and what impact it was going to have on him and his family.” She added, “It’s so important that we as a country actually figure out a way to come together and talk to one another and really find a way to find some common ground.”

King expressed that sentiment in nearly every speech he delivered.

Jerry Knighton at Clemson University's 2018 Men of Color National Summit.
Jerry Knighton at Clemson University’s 2018 Men of Color National Summit.

“Dr. King’s efforts were about equality and fairness for all. Though I was young at the time, I had seen enough to know that things were far from equal. I was educated for the most part in a segregated school system,” said Jerry Knighton, associate vice president for Clemson’s Office of Access and Equity.

Knighton recalled a time when he waited in a doctor’s office all day to be treated while white patients were called in to see the doctor.

“I also remember having to order food from a window because I was not allowed to sit inside the restaurant. All of these experiences happened during my lifetime,” Knighton said.

Reminiscing on the days he went to segregated schools, Knighton said many of his former teachers lost their jobs because of integration.

“That hit home because my parents were both educators. My father was a principal and my mother was a teacher,” Knighton said.

His mother retired before the school district could dismiss her, but Knighton’s father had to sue the district for race discrimination before he retired.

“Given that history, it wasn’t until after college that I decided to focus my career on helping those who were disadvantaged due to circumstances beyond their control,” he said. “As fate would have it, I have spent the majority of my professional career involved in roles responsible for ensuring compliance with civil rights laws and policies. The last 30 years have been at Clemson.”

Dr. King addressing crowd in front of the Washington Monument.
Dr. King addressing crowd in front of the Washington Monument.

Knighton said King dedicated his life to a cause bigger than himself.

“It would have been easy for him to just focus on being a great preacher, a university professor, an award-winning author, a great husband or an outstanding father,” Knighton said.

Today, people like Knighton stand on the shoulders of civil rights warriors like King.

“His legacy lives on today in the hearts and minds of people around the world. So when I think of Dr. King, I think of finding purpose in life. What am I here to do that does not benefit me directly but impacts the lives of others?” Knighton asked. “When we find that purpose and a vision to accomplish it, we will also leave a legacy that will live on after we are gone.”

King was born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta. Clemson University will join the nation in celebrating his life Monday, Jan. 21.

In addition to Wiley’s visit, the Gantt Multicultural Center will host:

  • A blood drive from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21, at the Hendrix Student Center in meeting rooms A and B. Donating blood reflects King’s commitment to helping others.
  • An oratorical contest at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, in 100 Vickery Hall. The contest gives students the opportunity to reflect and speak on the MLK celebration theme by considering Childish Gambino’s song, “This is America.”
  • The return of the Tunnel of Oppression from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, in Hendrix Student Center ballrooms A and B. The Tunnel of Oppression is a series of simulations that depict real-life scenarios of power, privilege and oppression.

“We want to provide opportunities for the entire Clemson community to engage in learning, dialogue and action around building a more inclusive campus in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Stewart-Tillman said.

The Harvey and Lucinda Gantt Multicultural Center is a division of Clemson Inclusion and Equity.

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