Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints honoured the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Saturday night for the organization’s commitment to advancing equality and justice in society.
Becoming Good Neighbours
“Thank you for your friendship,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said after receiving an award during a gala sponsored by the BYU Management Society at the Crystal Gateway Marriott hotel. “When I’m asked, ‘Why would you attend or accept an award [from] or be present with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?’ I say, ‘Because that’s our neighbour.’”
Johnson said the NAACP, founded 110 years ago to give a voice to the voiceless, believes dialogue across ideological lines can be a healing salve for the nation and the world.
“I do believe that if more of us begin to talk across communities, across faith, across beliefs, we can heal much of the harm that has been caused [by the current political climate of intolerance] and be a stronger community for it,” he said. “Thank you for this great opportunity.”
Karen Boykin-Towns, NAACP Vice Chair, also received the award for advancing equality and justice in society, as Elder Stevenson presented it to her.
Emulating Christlike Love
Elder Stevenson said the Church’s growing friendship with the NAACP — one that formally began at a May 2018 news conference with a joint call for civility — can serve as an inspiration for the membership of the BYU Management Society to remember to be their brother’s keeper, foster civility and emulate Christlike love.
They can be their brother’s keeper, Elder Stevenson said, by reaching out to everyone around them. “Good people come together in unity to fulfill one of our core [and] divinely appointed responsibilities, which is to care for the poor and needy,” he said. “Who does that include? It’s everyone around us. Being your brother’s keeper will lead to bridging divisions rather than creating divisions.”
Civility, Elder Stevenson said, can become a reality only after we have put in the sweat equity to make it happen. “It’s easy to call for civility but it’s harder to do the work of making civility possible,” he said. “The best way for me to distil this was thinking of the words of Jesus Christ: ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’ [John 14:15]. [This] motivates our actions, our behaviour.”
Concerning the emulation of Christlike love, Elder Stevenson invited the audience to pattern their lives after Christ’s standard of empathy, compassion and love. “Let us fulfill the invitation of the Savior to ‘love one another, for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God’ [1 John 4:7].”
Book of Mormon Invites Goodness for All
Elder Stevenson concluded by quoting a key Book of Mormon scripture that highlights the fundamental equality of all men and women in the eyes of God: “He inviteth … all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
“We truly do believe that we are all of the same divine family,” Elder Stevenson said. “We truly believe that your well-being is tied to your neighbor’s well-being.”
Ongoing Initiatives and Events
Saturday’s gathering follows a visit to Salt Lake City last fall by leaders of the NAACP, when the two groups continued their work on a joint education and employment initiative being deployed in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and Charlotte. The Church and the NAACP are customizing the Church’s self-reliance services materials and programs to be most effective for the initiative.
Other interactions between the Church and the NAACP included an invitation for Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy to speak at the NAACP 109th National Convention held in San Antonio, Texas, on July 15, 2018. The NAACP’s visit to Salt Lake City during the May 2018 joint press conference came two weeks before the Church’s 40th anniversary celebration of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.
In addition to its relationship with the NAACP, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has engaged in a concerted effort to strengthen African American individuals and families through genealogy. The Church is helping African Americans trace their roots as far back as possible. In February 2019, the Church presented a $2 million donation to the International African American Museum (IAAM), which is set to open in 2021 on the former Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina. In December 2016, the Church gave a newly indexed database of the historic Freedmen’s Bureau Records to the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The database contains genealogical information of freed African Americans after the Civil War.