My father’s health declined last year as COVID-19 began its slow march across the globe.
He died just as NBA officials suspended the 2020 season. I was with my mother at the mortuary the following day when Latter-day Saint leaders canceled Church meetings worldwide. Soon schools began the transition to online learning.
Grieving my father amid the uncertainty of a pandemic left me feeling unexpectedly unsettled; before my father’s illness, he had always been the sure place I turned for stability.
Then I got a call from a friend.
The Rev. Theresa Dear was the first person I met at the 110th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in Detroit, Michigan, in July 2019.
She spoke with confidence about the NAACP’s relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and the organizations’ combined efforts to promote self-reliance. Her words were deliberate and hopeful.
“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,” she said. “We are not just locking arms in the community, but we’re locking arms for the future.”
We had stayed in touch after the conference. I was not working the morning she called after my father’s death — but I picked up the phone anyway.
She had read a tribute I posted about my dad on social media and had a single question: “Will you pray with me?”
I listened as she petitioned heaven for me and my family and for the world facing a pandemic. In an instant, the peace that eluded me during that uncertain time consumed me.
The Rev. Dear is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church; I am a member of the Relief Society. She was raised largely in foster care in Chicago; I grew up as one of five children in the Salt Lake Valley. We have differing political opinions. Still, we are connected by a belief in Jesus Christ and in a desire to follow Him.
The Rev. Amos Brown — pastor of the historic Third Baptist Church of San Francisco — described our friendship best: “We have more in common than that which may superficially divide us.”
This week I watched as the Rev. Brown, NAACP President Derrick Johnson and President Russell M. Nelson announced joint education and humanitarian initiatives.
The Church and the NAACP — an international Church and a national organization joined by their belief “in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man” and in Jesus Christ — are motivated to action, President Nelson said. “We call for greater civility and kindness. And we work together to bless the lives of God’s children.”
As with the Rev. Dear, I met the Rev. Brown in Detroit. A civil rights activist and former student of Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Brown told the media that even though it is often called a “melting pot,” the United States should actually be compared to a salad bowl. Oneness is not sameness in a world strengthened by diversity, he said. “The salad bowl is instructive because the ingredients never lose their identity.”
NAACP President Johnson expressed a similar sentiment while speaking Sunday, June 13, during a sacrament meeting in downtown Salt Lake City.
He petitioned the congregation to be open enough to love despite differences “because our uniqueness is actually our genius.”
“I believe the Lord truly wants us to bring all of our genius together … so that we can truly experience His blessings.”
It is the kind of brotherly love exemplified by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles before the Church and the NAACP ever locked arms on joint initiatives.
While making a courtesy call in 2017 to the NAACP’s offices in Jackson, Mississippi — which had been the base of operations for civil rights activist Medgar Evers before he was assassinated in 1963 — Elder Holland noticed the offices needed repairs. Upon his return to Church headquarters, he secured funding, and the Jackson Mississippi Stake organized young single adults and full-time missionaries to replace the carpets, paint the walls and make electrical and plumbing repairs.
“It was just a kindness and a courtesy from one neighbor to another,” Elder Holland later said. “There wasn’t ever any ulterior motive. … It’s the way people are supposed to live together. This country and the whole world could benefit from a little more Christian neighborliness.”
I was the recipient of that Christian neighborliness on a day last year when a friend called and offered a sincere prayer, lifting me from grief and instability and directing my focus to a sure place — Jesus Christ.
It brought peace amid the pandemic’s uncertainty.
Fifteen months later, as the world glimpses an end to the pandemic, new trials continue to make us unsure. Looking forward with prophetic vision during Monday’s press conference, President Nelson spoke about improving the future of many currently in distress. “The challenges are huge, and our capacities are limited. But together we want to make a difference, even though our efforts may seem relatively small,” he said.
It will happen by locking arms to promote joint initiatives, as two organizations — connected by a belief “in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man” and in Jesus Christ — are motivated to action.
It will happen as we reach out to friends in need and turn our gaze toward heaven.