NAACP and the Church: How a unique partnership is blessing God’s children

DETROIT, Michigan — The Rev. Amos C. Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, stood in front of large block orange letters spelling NAACP and spoke of his friendship with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We have more in common than that which may superficially divide us,” said the civil rights activist and former student of Marin Luther King, Jr.

The NAACP and the Church are connecting “not as black or white, not as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Baptists, but as children of God who are about loving everybody, and bringing hope, happiness and good health to all of God’s children,” the Rev. Brown said.

Just hours later, the Rev. Brown introduced President Russell M. Nelson at the 110th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on July 21 in Detroit and talked of “locking arms” with Church leaders.

President Nelson also spoke of the power of partnerships. “Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can,” said President Nelson during his NAACP convention address.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks at the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks at the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

Friendship

President Nelson’s historic address — the second time in two years that a leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spoken at an NAACP national convention — marks the beginning of a growing collaboration between the two organizations. NAACP Board Chairman Leon W. Russell said the Church and the NAACP have, in recent months, “examined how they can work together.”

In 2017, local Latter-day Saints helped refurbish the NAACP offices in in Jackson, Mississippi. The next year, in May 2018, the First Presidency and NAACP leaders released a joint statement calling for greater civility and racial harmony. Two months later, the Church announced a historic collaboration between the two organizations and launched a self-reliance initiative. The NAACP and BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School have also worked together on joint projects.

Why? “Because they are all God’s children, they are our brothers and sisters,” said President Nelson.

President Nelson to NAACP: ‘May we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere’

Elder Jack N. Gerard, General Authority Seventy and director of the Church Communication Department, said the friendship between the Church and the NAACP has developed in a very short period of time.

“The combination of all this shows, under President Nelson’s leadership, simple acts of kindness, of mutual respect, will now blossom,” said Elder Gerard, who spoke at the 109th NAACP Annual Convention in San Antonio on Sunday, July 15, 2018.

The invitation for President Nelson to speak at the NAACP national convention, “shows the depth and strength of what this relationship has become,” he added.

The Church and the NAACP have “not only linked arms. We have given each other a large hug, if you will. … We see each other for who we are.”

Tonyia Edmondson poses for a photo while attending the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019.
Tonyia Edmondson poses for a photo while attending the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

Self reliance

Nowhere is that collaboration more evident than in self-reliance pilot programs in Chicago and San Francisco, adapted from the Church’s self-reliance curriculum and sponsored by the NAACP.

“Without question, there is a philosophical alliance, there is a spiritual alliance, and there is a practical and a strategic alliance because we want the same things,” said the Rev. Theresa Dear, NAACP vice chair of religious affairs. “We are not just locking arms in the community, but we’re locking arms for the future.”

The feedback from the pilot self-reliance programs has been “unanimously positive,” she said.

Blaine Maxfield, managing director of Welfare and Self-Reliance Services, said the Church has had a “wonderful experience” working with the NAACP.

Read more: Sister Sharon Eubank co-writes opinion piece on why President Nelson speaking at the NAACP convention shows a ‘symphony of brotherhood’

As part of the “education and employment initiative,” members of the two organizations have customized the Church’s personal finance material for the initiative. In pilot groups held in Chicago and San Francisco, NAACP representatives are facilitating the 12-week personal finance program.

“The initial feedback has been very positive,” said Maxfield. “It hit the mark.”

Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, participates in an interview during the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. The Salt Lake branch of the NAACP has a decades-long positive relationship with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, participates in an interview during the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. The Salt Lake branch of the NAACP has a decades-long positive relationship with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

The effort is an outgrowth of the self-reliance courses — on finding a better job, gaining a better education and income, enhancing personal finances and pursuing entrepreneurship opportunities — as offered by the Church through local stakes.

While working with the NAACP to foster self-reliance, leaders felt like managing finances was a “fundamental place to start,” said Maxfield. “You can get a better job, but if you don’t manage finances, you might not be in a better place.”

‘Fix folks’ boats’

Chairman Russell agreed, calling financial literacy an essential component to elevating communities. Referencing rising tides that lift all boats, he spoke about those who have leaky boats or don’t own a boat.

“If you are not able to develop your own financial stability, that rising tide is liable to swamp you, to drown you,” he said. “If we believe we have to raise the quality of life for everyone in our communities, then this is something we have to do. It is just natural. Fix folks’ boats, so that when the tide comes in, their boat will rise.”

A river boat is docked on the Detroit River in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019.
A river boat is docked on the Detroit River in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Rev. Dear said that early feedback shows it is possible to “emancipate poverty.”

“When you come together in the name of Jesus Christ, that in and of itself is liberating.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the NAACP are strategic partners, “which means that we will be working together I believe, for years to come to do not only the work of the community and the work of the country, but also to do God’s work,” she said.

Symphony of brotherhood

On the eve of President Nelson’s historic NAACP address, the Detroit News published a joint op-ed written by Sister Sharon Eubank of the Relief Society general presidency, and Vice Chairwoman Karen Boykin-Towns of the NAACP board of directors.

“During Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech in Detroit, he spoke about love as ‘redemptive goodwill for all men,’ and he emphasized Christ’s teachings on the subject,” the women wrote.

“‘History,’ King observed, ‘is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command.’

“By having the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak in the same city and space where King once marched, the NAACP is demonstrating once again that it stands on the side of collaboration and cooperation. And at a time when we have too many social divisions and partitions, this emerging partnership between the NAACP and the Church echoes, in some small way, King’s call in Cobo Hall to transform ‘the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.’”