In what some would consider an unlikely friendship, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have joined hands as they pave the way for three major initiatives.
The First Presidency, which includes President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring, and the national leadership of the NAACP announced Monday new educational and humanitarian initiatives that are part of an ongoing collaboration.
It has been three years, since May of 2018, when these groups first met and began a growing relationship.
“Today, we are pleased to announce three key initiatives that have emerged from our many discussions and prayerful planning,” said Nelson at a news conference, shortly after meeting with NAACP leadership in the Church Administration Building on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
“Leaders of the church have found common ground with the NAACP as we have discussed challenges that beset some of God’s children,” Nelson said. Along with his counselors, they were joined by elders Ronald A. Rasband and Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy.
“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,” Nelson said.
Nelson noted the details about the academic and philanthropic-focused plans that have resulted from their ongoing discussions and collaboration.
To support the groups’ educational goals, the global faith leader announced the church’s commitment to fund a $1 million scholarship donation per year for three years, overseen by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), which will help young Black students in the United States.
Nelson also shared the church’s plans to provide $250,000 for an Amos C. Brown Student Fellowship to Ghana and explained that the experience “will allow selected students from the USA an opportunity to learn more about their heritage.”
“These efforts represent an ongoing desire of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to teach and live the two great commandments — to love God and neighbor,” Nelson said.
Together, Nelson explained, the two entities will “bring relief to suffering souls in underprivileged areas of the United States,” and through these efforts, “teach important principles of self-reliance.”
To accomplish this objective, the senior leader pledged a $2 million church contribution per year for the next three years “to encourage service and help to those in need” in those areas.
“This is consistent with our many humanitarian efforts around the world for which our members have donated so generously,” Nelson said.
NAACP leaders in attendance included Derrick Johnson, president and CEO; Wilbur Colom, special counsel; Eris Sims, chief of staff; Yumeka Rushing, chief strategy officer, and Reverend Dr. Amos C. Brown, senior pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco and president of the NAACP Branch in San Francisco.
UNCF representatives at the event included Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO; Maurice Jenkins, executive vice president and chief development officer, and Monica Sudduth, regional development director of San Francisco.
Nelson expressed his thanks to the NAACP and UNCF leaders for being a part of the shared vision.
“On this week of Juneteenth — a time designated to remember the end of slavery in the United States — we are honored to join with our dear friends from the NAACP and the UNCF to announce these goals and our shared vision,” he said.
“While a global pandemic has impacted our ability to meet in person, we have been hard at work, and we are pleased to meet today in that same warm spirit to share now some joint initiatives that will take our progress to a new level,” Rasband said.
Monday’s gathering of Latter-day Saints and NAACP leadership was reminiscent of the groups’ news conference just over three years ago when Nelson called for people to demonstrate “greater civility and kindness and to work together to bless the lives of all God’s children.”
“On May 17, 2018, the church and the NAACP — in this very room — made a unified plea for greater civility and racial harmony. It was the solidifying of a growing friendship and the beginning of discussions about how we could learn from and serve one another.”
In July 2019, Nelson spoke to the NAACP 110th National Convention’s attendees in Detroit. His message centered on how “differences need not undermine society’s shared humanity.”
A year later, he and NAACP leaders authored a national op-ed on how to build greater understanding, overcome prejudice and address the intolerable sin of racism.