The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced an expanded collaboration between it and the NAACP.

Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy of the LDS Church, made the announcement at the NAACP’s 109th annual national meeting held in San Antonio, Texas, Sunday evening.

“I’m pleased to announce that we will together launch an education and employment initiative with an eye towards national impact, beginning in cities like Baltimore, Atlanta and Camden, New Jersey,” Gerard told the audience. “We envision joint NAACP and LDS activities and projects all over this nation. We do not intend to be a flash in the pan; that is not our style, and we know it’s not yours.”

Historically, this is the first time an LDS general authority has spoken at an NAACP national convention. Several thousand were in attendance according to an LDS Church press release.

“I am thrilled to be part of this annual convention, whose wise purpose is to ‘establish policies and programs of action’ just as God would have us do. For us, as also for many of you, ‘God is love,’ and loving God means loving and serving each other,” Gerard said.

According to LDS Church information, the initiative will include the use of professionally developed andproven training course materials to be taught in different locations of worship and community centers. Members of the two organizations along with those of other faiths and course graduates will instruct.

Courses will include finding a better job, gaining a better education and income, personal finances and entrepreneurship, such as starting and growing one’s own business.

In May, a special press conference was held in Salt Lake City between the First Presidency of the LDS Church and the national leadership of the NAACP. Both groups called for greater civility an racial harmony.

At that meeting, Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, called the Church “a partner who seeks to pursue harmony and civility within our community… [with whom] I am proud to stand here today to open up a dialog to seek ways of common interest to work towards a higher purpose.”

Russell M. Nelson, president of the church, stated in May that the two groups would “explore ways — such as education and humanitarian service — in which our respective members and others can serve and move forward together, lifting our brothers and sisters who need our help, just as the Savior, Jesus Christ, would do.”

“I was definitely one of those folks wondering why are we going to Utah,” said Karen Boykins-Towns, vice-chair of the NAACP board of directors. “Our visit and our meeting [were] surprisingly impactful and groundbreaking. And despite our reservations, we left that historic meeting with a better understanding of each other’s history and the desire to acknowledge the past and move forward to work together for the common good.”

Leon W. Russell, chairman of the NAACP board of directors, spoke at Sunday’s mass meeting. He said the NAACP’s relationship with the church is still developing as they share common ground on issues of equality, human rights and civility.

“It’s not about theology; it’s not about philosophy. It’s about helping people. I’m very happy that we are going to work on those elements,” Gerard said.

“We look forward to working closely with them and see them as a shared partner with shared values and equal interest and blessing the Lord’s children.”

Also participating at the national convention was the Debra Bonner Unified Voices Choir (formerly Genesis Choir) of Salt Lake City, which performed three separate sets at the meetings, including a spirited rendition of “Calvary” sung just prior to Elder Gerard’s remarks.

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire

A 32-year veteran of covering news in Utah County, Genelle covers Provo, Orem, Faith/Religion, including the LDS Church and general assignments.

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