Calling for service, civility and Christlike love and noting that “all are alike unto God,” Elder Gary E. Stevenson honored the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the organization’s commitment to advancing equality and justice in society.
“We believe that we are all part of the same divine family,” said Elder Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the BYU Management Society Gala Award Ceremony, held in the Crystal Gateway Marriott hotel on May 11. “We truly believe that your well-being is tied to your neighbor’s well-being.”
Elder Stevenson said that the Church’s growing friendship with the NAACP — one that formally began at a May 2018 news conference with a joint call for civility, harmony and respect— can serve as an inspiration for the membership of the BYU Management Society.
Focusing his remarks on the topic, “Be Your Brother’s Keeper,” Elder Stevenson said 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. 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 people 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 distill this was thinking of the words of Jesus Christ: ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’ (John 14:15). (This) motivates our actions, our behavior.”
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 everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God’ ” (1 John 4:7).
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).
During the gala, Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO, thanked Church leaders for their friendship.
“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 neighbor.’”
Johnson said the NAACP, founded 110 years ago, 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.”
The gala followed 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, North Carolina. The Church and the NAACP are customizing the Church’s self-reliance services materials and programs to be most effective for the initiative.
Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy, who also spoke at the BYU Management Society gala, announced the initiative on behalf of the Church while speaking at the NAACP 109th National Convention held in San Antonio, Texas, on July 15, 2018.
“I hope this will be just the beginning of an important new alliance between friends,” Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said of the 2018 event. “The NAACP is certainly one of the most legendary organizations in the black community and one of the most charitable as well. This is an opportunity to have like-minded people with like-minded motives wanting to help each other toward common goals.”
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, “Be One.”
“We realize that only the comprehension of the true Fatherhood of God can bring full appreciation of the true brotherhood of men and the true sisterhood of women. That understanding inspires us with passionate desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation,” said President Russell M. Nelson during the “Be One” event.
In addition to its relationship with the NAACP, the Church 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 Center for Family History, which is set to open in 2021 on the former Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presented the Church’s donation to Michael Boulware Moore, president and CEO of the museum. “We want to support the museum and the Center for Family History because we both value the strength that comes from learning about our families,” Elder Bednar said in a prepared statement. “The museum will not only educate its patrons on the important contributions of Africans who came through Gadsden’s Wharf and Charleston, it also will help all who visit to discover and connect with ancestors whose stories previously may not have been known.”
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.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presented the database on a flash drive to museum founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III in front of an audience of congressional leaders, genealogical experts and volunteers who were key to the project’s success.
“I can think of no better way to honor the unprecedented commitment of these volunteers, as well as the bravery and resilience of those whose names have now been found on these records, than to have this database symbolically housed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture,” said Elder Christofferson.