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May and early June mark three milestones in growth and change for race relations in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and around the world.
First, members of the Church look forward to the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Official Declaration 2 — revelation given to President Spencer W. Kimball on June 1, 1978, allowing worthy members of every race to enjoy priesthood and temple blessings.
Second, on May 17, the First Presidency met with the national leadership of the NAACP for the first time in the Church’s history.
Third, on May 10, the world celebrated the 24th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration, South Africa’s first ever black head of state.
The Church hopes the 40th anniversary event, titled “Be One,” will help create a sense of unity among church members no matter their racial group or ethnicity, according to the Church’s official statement on lds.org.
“Although attitudes and choices such as anger, bigotry, racism, prejudice and intolerance cause separation and division, fortunately, prophets have taught that a day of unity is coming,” according to an official statement from the Church.
Jeffrey Oliver, a faculty member in the Sociology and Social Work Department, teaches a class on race and ethnic relations. He suggested that our part in this “great day of unity” is to start with the people around us.
“My advice would be to stop and think about ways you can celebrate a person who is different than you,” Oliver said. “When you get to know somebody, you find out how much you really are alike.”
“Be One” will be held on June 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Conference Center. The celebration will feature musical performances from various artists, including Gladys Knight, Alex Boyè and members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
In addition to the “Be One” event, Church officials, including President Russell M. Nelson, met with leaders of the NAACP to discuss ways their respective organizations can help racial issues, according to mormonnewsroom.org. President Nelson and President Derrick Johnson released a joint statement that said, “We are impressed to call upon this nation, and indeed, the entire world to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect.”
Mandela devoted his life to ending the apartheid system that plagued South Africa, according to BBC. President Kimball ended a church policy which existed for over 100 years that disallowed members of black African descent to receive temple and priesthood blessings.
Chris Sebastian, a junior studying political science, was born in South Africa and lived there, as well as surrounding countries, before moving to England when he was 10. He said he feels while celebrating champions of racial equality is good, there is much more to be done.
“I personally don’t believe that it’s enough to heal the wounds that have been inflicted by so many racial injustices,” Sebastian said. “I think that the most important thing we can do is be real about it and to sit down and talk about these things.”
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for advocating the end of apartheid, according to history.com. When he was released, and eventually elected president, he chose to bring people together rather than seek retaliation. Sebastian said Mandela’s example influenced him and is a legacy that should be honored by more than anniversaries.
“Nelson Mandela’s example of not retaliating … definitely had an impact on me to show compassion and understanding and a willingness to work with those who differ as far as race or ethnicity is concerned,” Sebastian said. “It’s great that we can celebrate these events … that have happened, but you’re almost painting a beautiful rainbow over a horrendous looking painting.”
Brian Ogollah, a native of Kenya and a sophomore studying financial economics, said it is important to talk about racial issues, particularly in the Church community, because members sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about the history of race in the Church.
“If you keep trying to sugarcoat it and don’t talk about it, it looks like you have something to hide,” Ogollah said. “But we have nothing to hide, and the Church has been really good about being open about it.”
Despite the Church and global communities celebrating these two, a mural of Mandela and his accomplishments was vandalized with swastikas in England just nine days before the anniversary of his presidency, according to BBC.
According to a Pew Research Center study, the number of Americans who say racism is a big problem in the United States has almost doubled since 2011.