In a passionate introduction — different than any that might have been given previously to a president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a legendary civil rights activist enthusiastically and energetically spoke of his friend, President Russell M. Nelson.
About 3,000 people gathered in the COBO Center on the banks of the Detroit River in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, July 21, for the 2019 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention. Reverend Amos C. Brown, pastor of San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church, introduced President Nelson as “a bold, humble trailblazer.”
A day before President Nelson spoke, Reverend Wendell Anthony, who leads the largest NAACP chapter in the country and the Fellowship Chapel church in Detroit, welcomed participants to the city. “One does not begin the journey on the day the journey begins,” he said.
Such was the case with President Nelson’s address.
In January 2017, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles paid a courtesy visit to the well-worn NAACP offices in Mississippi and set in motion a Church-project to refurbish the facilities. In May of 2018, the First Presidency and leaders of the NAACP released a joint statement calling for greater civility and racial harmony. Two months later the Church announced historic collaboration between the two organizations, with the launch of a Self-Reliance initiative. And now the NAACP had invited President Nelson to address his friends at the 2019 national convention in Detroit.
Speaking of the relationship between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Reverend Brown stood near a sign of bright yellow NAACP block letters and shared what he had observed in President Nelson. Amid “tragic, troubling times,” President Nelson has helped “tangibilitate” the gospel, Reverend Brown said.
It’s not a real word, Reverend Brown confessed, but it has great meaning. Tangibilitate is making something real, perceptible, understandable, touchable, obtainable.
A Self-Reliance program in the Church is doing just that, lifting individuals and families through employment, education, and financial literacy and helping them move to a space where they can have a tangible relationship with their Heavenly Father and His Son. The Church is also working in Chicago and San Francisco to accomplish the same thing for struggling urban populations. “When I think of that I want to shout to the high heavens — there is more that we have in common than what divides us,” said Reverend Brown.
Quoting Micah 6:8 he added, “what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
During his first visit to the NAACP offices in Jackson, Mississippi, the plight of the NAACP became tangible to Elder Holland. The offices, once headquarters for civil rights activist Medgar Evers before he was assassinated in 1963, needed repairs.
“Here were these sweet, good people working so industriously trying to be good citizens and pursue their cause,” he said. “I said to the local leaders attending with me, ‘We can’t have colleagues and associates in such a good cause working in conditions like that.”
Read more: Sister Sharon Eubank co-writes opinion piece on why President Nelson speaking at NAACP convention shows a 'symphony of brotherhood'
Local Latter-day Saints went to work and replaced the carpets, painted the walls and made electrical and plumbing repairs.
“It was just a kindness and a courtesy from one neighbor to another,” Elder Holland said last year. “In fact I would like to think the reason this new relationship is significant and succeeding is because there wasn’t ever any ulterior motive. It’s the way the gospel is supposed to work. It’s the way people are supposed to live together. This country and the whole world could benefit from a little more Christian neighborliness. Out of small things proceedeth that which is great. I think something great can proceed out of this new relationship.”
And it did.
During the 2019 NAACP convention in Detroit, President Nelson literally “linked arms” with the NAACP leadership. In response to both his personal outreach and the collaboration between the Church and their organization, NAACP organizers changed President Nelson’s phrase. Instead of saying we will “link arms,” they said we will “lock arms.” It’s a response that suggests lasting friendship and continued collaboration. It’s a response that suggests growing understanding and tangibilitation.
“Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can,” President Nelson said during his NAACP convention address. “This world will never be the same.
— Sarah Jane Weaver is the editor of the Church News