Students in the UAB M.S. in Health Administration program (Class 56) had a “day on” rather than a “day off” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

The MSHA students, Ibukun Afon, U.D. Igwe, Malik Oden, Rashidatu Olorunsola, JaMyiah Stovall, and Rana Webb, joined the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Cahaba Riverkeeper teams at Shadow Lawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery. Established in 1889, Shadow Lawn is the largest African American cemetery in Birmingham.

Among the more well-known interred at Shadow Lawn include Denise McNair, one of the four girls killed in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing who was buried there until 2007, Dolphus Shields, a great-great-grandfather of Former First Lady Michelle Obama, and Wilbert Thirkield “Big Chief” Ellis, a blues pianist and vocalist.

An article in AL.com from 2016, says care for the cemetery is no longer included in the City of Birmingham budget and is maintained by Shadow Lawn Memorial Gardens Maintenance and Perpetual Care Association and relies heavily on volunteers for upkeep.

We asked Afon why this project and why this day:

“We chose to partake in the Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Day of Service at Shadow Lawn Memorial Park because of the historical significance of this particular cemetery. As one of Birmingham’s key historically black cemeteries, Shadow Lawn suffered from neglect and was in dire need of upkeep and revitalization.

One of my favorite MLK quotes is: ‘Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.’

Serving alongside people of all different walks of life this Saturday resonates deeply within me as we continue to realize and embody the dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

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    Shadow Lawn is located at 1600 12th Street SW in the Woodland Park section of town, only two blocks south of Elmwood Cemetery.

    The students’ work was part of Birmingham King Week. This is an annual collaboration between the UAB Office of the Vice President for Diversity Equity and Inclusion, UAB Student Affairs, City of Birmingham Mayor’s Office, Hands on Birmingham and other local groups to honor and celebrate King’s life and legacy.

    As we enter Black History Month this February, Afon and his classmates would love to encourage fellow School of Health Professions students, faculty/staff, and the rest of the community to learn more about the history of Birmingham by visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the 16th Street Baptist Church located at 1530 6th Avenue North.

    We also want to say a special thank you to Afon for permission to use the photos he took at the event. They were also used by the Black Warrior Riverkeeper group in their story highlighting the organization’s efforts on the MLK Day of Service.