NAACP and the Church: How a Unique Partnership Is Blessing God’s Children

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News editor

  • 22 July 2019

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is flanked by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, left, and Reverend Theresa Dear while meeting with NAACP leaders at the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • The Church is working with the NAACP to foster self-reliance, beginning with a customized course for managing finances.

DETROIT, Michigan

Reverend Amos C. Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, stood here in front of large orange block letters spelling NAACP and spoke of his friendship with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We have more in common than that which may superficially divide us,” said the civil rights activist and former student of Martin Luther King Jr.

The NAACP and the Church are connecting “not as black or white, not as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Baptists, but as children of God who are about loving everybody and bringing hope, happiness, and good health to all of God’s children,” Reverend Brown said.

Just hours later, Reverend Brown introduced President Russell M. Nelson at the 110th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and talked of “locking arms” with Church leaders.

President Nelson also spoke of the power of partnerships. “Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can,” said President Nelson during his NAACP convention address.

Friendship

President Nelson’s historic address—the second time in two years that a leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spoken at an NAACP national convention—marks the beginning of a growing collaboration between the two organizations. NAACP Board Chairman Leon W. Russell said the Church and the NAACP have, in recent months, “examined how they can work together.”

In 2017, local Latter-day Saints helped refurbish the NAACP offices in Jackson, Mississippi. The next year, in May 2018, the First Presidency and NAACP leaders released a joint statement calling for greater civility and racial harmony. Two months later, the Church announced a historic collaboration between the two organizations and launched a self-reliance initiative. The NAACP and BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School have also worked together on joint projects.

Why? “Because they are all God’s children, they are our brothers and sisters,” said President Nelson.

Elder Jack Gerard, General Authority Seventy and director of the Church Communication Department, said the friendship between the Church and the NAACP has occurred in a very short period of time.

“The combination of all this shows, under President Nelson’s leadership, simple acts of kindness, of mutual respect, will now blossom,” said Elder Gerard.

The invitation for President Nelson to speak at the NAACP national convention “shows the depth and strength of what this relationship has become,” he added.

The Church and the NAACP have “not only linked arms. We have given each other a large hug, if you will. . . . We see each other for who we are.”

Self-Reliance

Leon W. Russell, chairman of the NAACP, is interviewed during the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Nowhere is that collaboration more evident than in self-reliance pilot programs in Chicago and San Francisco, adapted from the Church’s self-reliance curriculum and sponsored by the NAACP.

“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,” said Theresa Dear, NAACP vice chair of religious affairs. “We are not just locking arms in the community, but we’re locking arms for the future.”

The feedback from the pilot self-reliance programs has been “unanimously positive.” Blaine Maxfield, managing director of Welfare and Self-Reliance Services, said the Church has had a “wonderful experience” working with the NAACP.

As part of the “education and employment initiative,” members of the two organizations have customized the Church’s personal finance material for the initiative. In pilot groups held in Chicago and San Francisco, NAACP representatives are facilitating the 12-week personal finance program.

“The initial feedback has been very positive,” said Maxfield. “It hit the mark.”

The effort is an outgrowth of the self-reliance courses—on finding a better job, gaining a better education and income, enhancing personal finances, and pursuing entrepreneurship opportunities—as offered by the Church through local stakes.

While working with the NAACP to foster self-reliance, leaders felt like managing finances was a “fundamental place to start,” said Maxfield. “You can get a better job, but if you don’t manage finances, you might not be in a better place.”

“Fix FolksBoats”

Chairman Russell agreed, calling financial literacy an essential component to elevating communities.

Referencing rising tides that lift all boats, he spoke about those who have leaky boats or don’t own a boat.

“If you are not able to develop your own financial stability, that rising tide is liable to swamp you, to drown you,” he said. “If we believe we have to raise the quality of life for everyone in our communities, then this is something we have to do. It is just natural. Fix folks’ boats so that when the tide comes in, their boat will rise.”

Reverend Dear said that early feedback shows it is possible to “emancipate poverty.”

“When you come together in the name of Jesus Christ, that in and of itself is liberating.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the NAACP are strategic partners, “which means that we will be working together, I believe, for years to come to do not only the work of the community and the work of the country but also to do God’s work,” she said.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, look over a photo of Detroit with Reverend Theresa Dear, right, while meeting with NAACP leaders at the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, participates in an interview during the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019. The Salt Lake branch of the NAACP has a decades-long positive relationship with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, participates in an interview during the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019. The Salt Lake branch of the NAACP has a decades-long positive relationship with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.