DETROIT, Michigan — In this city known for its history steeped in the civil rights movement, President Russell M. Nelson issued a call to action to members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Sunday evening, July 21.
“Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can,” said the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “This world will never be the same.”
Addressing the 110th annual NAACP national convention in the Cobo Center in the diverse city where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke and marched more than a half century ago, President Nelson will be joined this week by keynote speaker and NAACP Chairman Leon Russell, 2020 presidential candidates, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the convention rostrum.
Reverend Amos C. Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, introduced President Nelson to the NAACP audience.
“Although he comes from a different faith tradition and a different race,” President Nelson and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are locking arms with the NAACP to lift God’s children, Rev. Brown said.
During his 10-minute address, President Nelson praised the work of the NAACP — the United State’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization.
For more than a century, the NAACP has been devoted “to improving lives and elevating society,” he said. “You have done much to protect and lift countless individuals. Your lofty ideals are indeed inspiring.”
Last year leaders of the NAACP, led by Chairman Leon Russell, visited Salt Lake City and met with the First Presidency. “Our time together was marked by a feeling of mutual respect and a desire to link arms to see if we could capitalize on our respective strengths and help more people by working together,” said President Nelson.
At a press conference following that 2018 meeting, President Nelson explained that a fundamental doctrine of the Church is that all people are God’s children — all part of the same divine family.
At that same press conference, NAACP President Derrick Johnson and President Nelson issued a joint invitation for all people, organizations and governmental units “to work with greater civility, to eliminate prejudice of all kinds, and focus on important interests that we have in common.”
“Simply stated, we strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation,” said President Nelson during his NAACP convention address on Sunday evening.
Quoting from 2 Nephi 26:33, President Nelson said the Savior invites “’all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he (denies) none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.’
“May I repeat that last phrase: ‘All are alike unto God.’”
To the convention audience, he added: “You who are gathered here in this room strive to make this heavenly truth an earthly reality. I commend you for it. And yet we all realize that, as a society and as a country, we have not yet achieved the harmony and mutual respect that would allow every man and woman and every boy and girl to become the very best version of themselves.”
The cure for what ails the world was prescribed by the Master Healer, Jesus Christ, President Nelson said. “His instruction was first to love God with all our hearts and, then, to love our neighbors as ourselves” (see Matthew 22:35–39).
NAACP President Johnson, recently demonstrated the second great commandment, said President Nelson. “While receiving a public service award on behalf of the NAACP presented by Brigham Young University’s Management Society, President Johnson acknowledged that he had been asked why he would accept an award from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His response? ‘Because that’s our neighbor.’”
President Nelson added, “We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us. We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other. If we have any hope of reclaiming the goodwill and sense of humanity for which we yearn, it must begin with each of us, one person at a time.”
President Nelson said he has watched the influence of just such a person — Rev. France Davis, pastor of the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church for 45 years in Salt Lake City. “His quiet dignity and tireless advocacy for unity have greatly enriched the fabric of our community,” said President Nelson.
Many years ago, President Nelson hosted Rev. Davis at a performance of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. Weeks later President Nelson visited Reverend Davis’ church. “He and his church have enhanced our city in a tangible way,” he said. “True community begins with just such relationships; with loving our neighbor; with honoring and serving each other.”
This is the spirit behind the cooperation shared by the NAACP and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said.
In 2017, Johnson met with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Jackson, Mississippi, visiting the home of the martyred civil rights hero Medgar Evers. After that initial visit in Mississippi, a plan took shape to refurbish the Medgar Evers office in order to preserve further his important legacy. Local members of the NAACP worked with Latter-day Saints to redo walls, lay new carpet and make other enhancements.
“The first great commandment — to love our God — is inexorably yoked to the second great commandment, to love our neighbor,” said President Nelson. “Together, we can extend this love to all God’s children — our fellow brothers and sisters.
“As President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I pray that we may increasingly call each other dear friends. May we go forward doing our best to exemplify the two great commandments — to love God and love each of His children.”