14 messages from RootsTech Connect keynote speakers

Family history is not just a journey to the past, said FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood during his closing keynote address at RootsTech Connect Saturday, Feb. 27.

“It’s a story that’s continuously being written with pages from the past, combined with moments of today, that continue to live on in the future.”

And FamilySearch’s mission to create the family tree of mankind is not just a vast pedigree chart. Rather, it’s “a storybook of how each individual lived, who they loved and what they learned,” he told the virtual, global audience.  

Answering these three questions — “How did they live?” “Who did they love?” “What did they learn?” — is a simple approach Rockwood gave for discovering someone’s story. 

“When we see how we and our stories are connected, we will see and treat each other differently,” he said. “Connection of family transcends all borders, all races, all prejudices, all different societal philosophies and beliefs and can unite us as one human family.”

3-day RootsTech Connect was simply the ‘ribbon cutting’ for what’s to come

Rockwood also emphasized that each individual’s story matters and deserves to be remembered. 

“As we connect our past, our present and our future in creating our own stories, and as we connect our stories to each other, we will indeed create the story, the accurate and real story of our generation. A story that will bless and edify you and those who will follow you. Because you matter.”

Keynote speakers from all over the world are participating in RootsTech Connect, Feb. 25-27, 2021.
Keynote speakers from all over the world are participating in RootsTech Connect, Feb. 25-27, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Rockwood joined 13 keynote speakers on RootsTech Connect’s main stage Feb. 25-27 in sharing messages on the importance of family and discovering one’s roots. Other speakers included Astrid Tuminez, Sharon Leslie Morgan, Will Hopoate, bless4, Diego Lugano, Lorena Ochoa, Nick Vujicic, Bruna Benites, Tita (Milton Queiroz da Paixão), Erick Avari, Francesco Lotoro, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Sunetra Sarker.

Below are excerpts from each speaker.

Astrid Tuminez: Women Warriors

“My journey from a village to the slums, and later to the University of the Philippines, Brigham Young University, Harvard and MIT and now at UVU, wouldn’t have been possible without my mother’s vision and fighting spirit. …

“My grandmother, my mother and other women warriors in my life are all women who dared to dream in difficult circumstances. They found courage to leap into adventures, and didn’t let their circumstances overly sway what they could and would become. They were women of grit who knew how to fall down and get back up again. Grit resided in their hearts and souls, enough to blaze a trail for themselves and for me.

Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez moderates the Building Inclusive Communities Through Education panel at the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019.
Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez moderates the Building Inclusive Communities Through Education panel at the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“As my journey continues to unfold, and as your journey unfolds, let us think back to the women warriors whose strength, courage, skills and lives connect to our own. I celebrate my mother and my grandmother. I celebrate myself and my daughter. Who are the women warriors that you will celebrate in your life?”

Astrid Tuminez became the first female president of Utah Valley University in 2018. She was born in the Philippines.

Sharon Leslie Morgan: Finding Healing through Family History

“Emotionally, many people have a feeling of shame because our ancestors were enslaved. I never had that feeling. I always felt like these were incredible people who survived incredible challenges and managed to do incredible things. My enslaved ancestors, who picked cotton, who had a bad family history, ended up with me, who has been able to do some successful, interesting and wonderful things. That evolution is amazing. …

Writer and genealogist Sharon Leslie Morgan is speaking during RootsTech Connect 2021.
Writer and genealogist Sharon Leslie Morgan is speaking during RootsTech Connect 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“They were the dreamers and we are the dream. They had dreamed of something else and we are the product of that dream. So we can go forward and we have to honor and appreciate that. We have to look back and we have to say their names. …

“Looking back on the truth of our history will help us move forward in the future.”

— Sharon Leslie Morgan is the founder of Our Black Ancestry, an online community for African American genealogical research.

Will Hopoate: ‘Overcoming Obstacles on and off the Rugby Pitch’

“Through the help of family and hard work and blessings from God, I’m living my dream at the moment. Playing professional sports isn’t everyone’s dream. It’s important to know what you want in life and things that you love. … 

Will Hopoate began playing for the National Rugby League (NRL) when he was 18 years old. He currently plays for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs as a fullback.
Will Hopoate began playing for the National Rugby League (NRL) when he was 18 years old. He currently plays for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs as a fullback. Credit: FamilySearch.org

“I think that applies to anyone, especially to the kids and to the youth out there to know that you can live your dreams. It’s not impossible. …

“A couple of principles that have helped me throughout my life [are] gratitude and humility. I think being grateful for things you have and counting your blessings more so than the problems and challenges that you have really can lighten your day. It can lighten your mood and be a powerful force in your life.”

Will Hopoate is an Australian-born professional rugby league player with family roots in Tonga.

bless4: Coming Together through Music and Creativity

“The word music in Japanese has two Kanji characters: sound and fun. I was stunned when I looked at these characters. Up to the point, my mind was focusing on things that didn’t matter. But I decided to remember why I was really doing music, and that I will try to spread the passion by singing. And from that point on, it started to change to the fun of music. I’m so grateful to know how wonderful music is.” — Kanasa Kawamitsu

The Kawamitsu siblings — from left: Akashi, Akino, Kanasa and Aiki — perform together as part of pop group bless4. They are keynote speakers at RootsTech Connect 2021.
The Kawamitsu siblings — from left: Akashi, Akino, Kanasa and Aiki — perform together as part of pop group bless4. They are keynote speakers at RootsTech Connect 2021. Credit: Screenshot RootsTech.org

“Though daily stress and worry won’t just go away, I think that everyday in some small way becomes a party by just changing our outlook and being upbeat.” — Aiki Kawamitsu

“That’s why we are thankful that we lived in the U.S. and Japan, and for being able to visit many countries through music. When we learn about the culture, and the language of a country and eat the local food and interact with people, I feel that I can take another fresh step forward.” — Akino Kawamitsu

— Japanese pop group bless4 has been performing together for 18 years. The group includes two brothers, Akashi and Aiki, and two sisters, Kanasa and Akino. Their message was presented in Japanese.

Diego Lugano: Inspiring Younger Generations

Diego Alfredo Lugano Morena, an Uruguayan former professional footballer, is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect 2021.
Diego Alfredo Lugano Morena, an Uruguayan former professional footballer, is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“I think the most important thing in this complicated world that we live in, is that either in soccer or in any area of life, you can realize your dreams and your hopes for the future. That’s through hard work and dedication, but mainly by being honest and loyal. …

“Being a good person is the main thing in any area of life. … The more proper you are and the more human, the better of a friend and the greater empathy you have, the more the universe opens up in your favor. …

“Satisfaction lies in breaking your own limits, your own boundaries; not in achieving great results. Continue to move on from your own little phases.”

— Diego Lugano is a former professional soccer player from Uruguay. His message was presented in Spanish.

Lorena Ochoa: Following Dreams and Giving Back

“When you dare to talk about your dreams, when you dare to share them with your loved ones and with your friends, you get closer to that dream. …

Lorena Ochoa — an athlete, mother, entrepreneur and promoter of golf in Mexico — is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect 2021.
Lorena Ochoa — an athlete, mother, entrepreneur and promoter of golf in Mexico — is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Endure the rough patches. … All of these rough patches strengthen you. They give extra significance to what you’re trying to achieve. It means a lot more because the work is so hard. You recognize that it’s worth it. …

“You have to be able to identify your mistakes and be willing to talk about your weaknesses. … Don’t be afraid to change when it’s necessary. Have the courage to make those changes and adjustments, because it’s really worth it.”

— Lorena Ochoa was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017 and was the first Mexican golfer to receive that honor. Her message was presented in Spanish.

Nick Vujicic: ‘You Matter

“The first person who needs to believe in you is you. The first person that needs to stop bullying you is you. You’re the first person to actually give your broken pieces a chance to turn into something beautiful. …

International motivational speaker and New York Times bestselling author Nick Vujicic is a speaker at RootsTech Connect in February 2021.
International motivational speaker and New York Times bestselling author Nick Vujicic is a speaker at RootsTech Connect in February 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“We need to approach each other with grace and mercy like never before. With love like never before, with understanding like never before. Because we need each other like never before. …

“There’s three things — that three-legged stool — for you how to know how to be self-loved, in a humble way. No. 1, the truth of your value. No. 2, the truth of your purpose. And thirdly, the truth of your full potential. No one ever reached their full potential until they did everything they could with what they were given.”

— Nick Vujicic is an Australian American born without arms or legs and is an inspirational speaker.

Bruna Benites: ‘Inspiring Others Through Football

“I really believe in leadership by example. I look to do my best every day, inspire those around me to do their best. … 

“I think the best example of all is for people to give everything they can in life — regardless of what their profession may be, regardless of whether or not they are athletes — that people be passionate about everything they do in life, that they do it lovingly and with 100% dedication. 

Bruna Benites, No. 14, walks with her team at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.
Bruna Benites, No. 14, walks with her team at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. Credit: Courtesy Bruna Benites

“Because when people do their best with all their hearts, people can make dreams come true.”

Bruna Benites is a two-time Olympian for the Brazil women’s soccer team and continues to play professional soccer. Her message was presented in Portuguese.

Tita: Soccer, Family and Stories

“I would like to tell all the youth that today’s sport has become an impressive tool. Perhaps you don’t need to be a member of the Brazilian national team and playing in the World Cup. Sometimes you might be that player who goes to a university and you study with a golf scholarship, a basketball scholarship or a volleyball scholarship, for example. …

Tita (Milton Queiroz de Paixão), left, is pictured with his wife, Sandra. They are the parents of five children.
Tita (Milton Queiroz de Paixão), left, is pictured with his wife, Sandra. They are the parents of five children. Credit: Courtesy Milton Queiroz de Paixão

“I think that any young person should seek for that situation, that opportunity to play a sport and to educate him or herself to that sport, thus becoming a person who would play the sport for the rest of their life. 

“So today, my message is precisely that: that you seek to play the sport and that the sport becomes a tool in your personal and professional life.”

Tita (Milton Queiroz da Paixão) is considered one of the best players in the history of Brazilian soccer. His message was presented in Portuguese.

Erick Avari: Blazing a Trail in Acting

Actor Erick Avari is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect in February 2021.
Actor Erick Avari is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect in February 2021. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“Along the way, I met so many people who didn’t have to, but went out of their way to show me kindness and help me along or to accept me. I have a lot of people to thank and appreciate. …

“That changed my life significantly. I would not be here if you had not done it. It can change someone’s life, and to the giver, it could mean practically nothing, a pat on the shoulder. …

“That is where we need to set the bar, to say we are kind.”

— Erick Avari is known as a trailblazer for a generation of South Asian actors.

Francesco Lotoro: ‘History Lives on Through Music’

Born in 1964 in Barletta, Italy, Francesco Lotoro is a pianist, composer and conductor. Lotoro is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect 2021.
Born in 1964 in Barletta, Italy, Francesco Lotoro is a pianist, composer and conductor. Lotoro is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“There were orchestras, complex operas and works that were written right in [the World War II concentration camps]. That is the miracle of this music. In the end it shows us what mankind is made of. Even through sufferings, our intelligence is not choked off but can be multiplied. …

“When you start to realize you are losing your physical life, the more the risk increases for physical life, the more genius that should give to that parallel life, which is that of the intellect. …

“Each of us has his/her talents, but dreams must come true and they have to be catalogued to be visible.”

— Francesco Lotoro is an Italian pianist, composer and conductor. His message was presented in Italian.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Peace, Love and Harmony

“We are still continuing the message of Joseph Shabalala. … We don’t talk bad about other people. We’re always encouraging and inviting people to come up with the good things that are going to help us lead a peaceful life. …

Members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo from South Africa — from left: Thulani Shabalala, Albert Mazibuko and Sibongiseni Shabalala — will be keynote speakers and performers at the upcoming RootsTech Connect virtual family history event in February 2021. Their musical careers have spanned more than 60 years.
Members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo from South Africa — from left: Thulani Shabalala, Albert Mazibuko and Sibongiseni Shabalala — will be keynote speakers and performers at the upcoming RootsTech Connect virtual family history event in February 2021. Their musical careers have spanned more than 60 years. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“That was a great honor we were given by Dr. Nelson Mandela [to be called South Africa’s cultural ambassadors to the world]. First of all, it shows us that what we are doing is important. Also, we have to be honest with ourselves. We must keep doing what we’re doing and make sure we represent our country correctly everywhere we go. …

“In music, that is where we learn who we are.”

— Ladysmith Black Mambazo has had a musical career of over 60 years and is known for singing in the Zulu styles of their local region. The above quotes came from Xolani Majozi, the group’s manager.

Sunetra Sarker: Embracing Multiculturalism

“When I was growing up in the ’70s, and ’80s, there was nobody, and I mean, nobody, that looked like me on screen. We had Black actresses. We had mixed-race actors. We had a couple of Chinese faces. But I honestly don’t think I had seen an Asian woman as an actor on screen. So it was never an option. I didn’t even think it was possible. …

Sunetra Sarker, known for her appearances on British television, is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect in February 2021.
Sunetra Sarker, known for her appearances on British television, is a keynote speaker at RootsTech Connect in February 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Now I have so many young girls who come up to me and say, ‘You were the first one; we were all waiting to see somebody that looked like us.’ …

“Don’t turn your back on the things that scare you. Run right towards it.”

— Sunetra Sarker was raised in England by parents who had come from India. She has become a British Academy of Film and Television Arts member and stalwart of British television.