An evening of music and messages on Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Plano Texas Stake center commemorated Black History Month and was widely attended by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their neighbors and friends.
The event — titled “Stories of Faith by Black American Latter-day Saints” — celebrated various cultures and featured poems and gospel songs.
Elder Paul B. Pieper, General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Southwest Area, said the event came about from a desire to expand the message of unity.
“We’ve been talking how do we do a better job of helping the Church look the same inside our buildings as it does outside in our communities,” Elder Pieper said. “Asking how we can do a better job connecting with cultures so they can feel like we are a place where they would like to be and they know we want them to be there with us.”
Around 900 people attended in person, and more than 1,000 members watched virtually in Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada and Arizona.
Author and African American advocate Alice Faulkner Burch addressed the congregation. She recently released a collection of faithful stories of Black American members of the Church titled “My Lord, He Calls Me” and is passionate about inspiring inclusion and unity among members.
“To see the entire chapel filled with people that came to attend was so beautiful, but more so all the people that stayed around. … They didn’t want to leave because of what they experienced and what the Holy Spirit shared with them,” Burch said.
Professional soloist Maxine Duncan traveled from Houston, Texas, to sing with the Millennial Choir. She said praising God through music has always come naturally for her and that she is in the process of learning more about the Church.
“There was a tangible Spirit of the Lord. It was in the room tonight, and it was glorious,” she said. “Music brings us together. I felt the love tonight. You are all so loving.”
Duncan sang alongside select members of the Millennial Choir under the direction of Joni Jensen.
“After singing, performing and hearing the speakers, I am changed,” said Jensen. “I am moved to approach sharing, inviting and seeing people for who they are even more strongly. It has definitely changed my heart.”
In addition to the broadcast event, several forums were held in the greater Dallas area about improving relationships with the Black community. Helen Graham, who leads community outreach for the Church’s North America Southwest Communication Council, was instrumental in those discussions.
“I hope after tonight our members glean that we as Black American Saints are not going anywhere,” Graham said. “That we have more commonalities than we do differences. That there is strength in beauty and diversity. To accept all of us, our lived experiences, our cultures, and learn and grow from that.”
Jill Taylor contributed to this report.