The black Mormon moment? By Hal Boyd For the Deseret News,
Published: Monday, Nov. 17 2014 8:00 a.m. MST
Mia Love, United States Congresswoman elect, speaks during the interview
at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Salt
Lake City. Hugh Carey, Deseret News)
"The Book of Mormon" musical is no longer winning Tonys, and Mitt
Romney has stopped running for president (or so he insists).
Yet, two years after Newsweek
the so-called “Mormon Moment,” members of The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints are once again in the news. But this time, it’s
black Latter-day Saints leading the way.
Earlier this month, in the sweep of Republican
victories, Mormon Mia Love became the first black female Republican
ever elected to Congress. "Many of the naysayers out there said that
Utah would never elect a black Republican LDS woman to Congress,"
Love said in
her victory speech. "Not only did we do it, we were the first to do
On the same night, the Milwaukee Bucks’ rookie small
forward, Jabari Parker — a Chicago native and lifelong Latter-day
Saint — became the first teenager in NBA history to
in two of his first three games. Perhaps equally of interest to
Latter-day Saints is that during general conference this year,
President Thomas S. Monson
recalling his dad’s advice: “Just be the same person you are in the
dark that you are in the light.”
Milwaukee Bucks' Jabari Parker (12) goes up for a shot as he gets
between Orlando Magic's Channing Frye (8) and Nikola Vucevic (9) during
the first half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Nov.
14, 2014. AP Photo/John Raoux)
And then there’s Ziggy Ansah. Born in Ghana, Ansah
played soccer and basketball growing up. He never once witnessed
American football. After converting to the church, he entered its
flagship school, Brigham Young University. While there he underwent
yet another conversion — this time from basketball to football.
After only two and a half seasons, Ansah was picked No. 5 overall in
the NFL draft. Since then, not only has the 25-year-old stood out on
the field, being voted the Mel Farr Rookie of the Year by the
Detroit Lions, but he’s also
off the field.
The rise of Love, Parker and Ansah has occurred while Gladys Knight
— Mormonism’s most famous black convert — is yet again climbing the
Billboard charts. Right now she's enjoying her tenth week on the
chart for Top Gospel Albums. Her latest record, “Where My Heart
Belongs,” was released via the Mormon-label, Shadow Mountain.
Artist and seven-time Grammy Award-winner Gladys Knight has a new album
called "Where My Heart Belongs." (Shadow Mountain Records)
To put this all in context, statistically speaking Latter-day Saints
make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population. While the
precise number of black Latter-day Saints is unknown, in the state
of Utah, where Mormons are 60 percent of the population, blacks
comprise less than 2 percent. Increasingly, however, black
Latter-day Saints are among the high achievers within the church.
Take for example Harvard-educated Kenyan-American
Shaka M. Kariuki,
who runs the investment firm Kuramo Capital; or
the Malian mayor with a penchant for presidential runs (two and
the former Illinois public health administrator turned Utah
community leader; or Alex Boye, whose
cover of a popular Disney tune
garnered more views on YouTube (54 million) than Coldplay's latest
And the list goes on.
BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit
Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in
April 2013. Jaren Wilkey, BYU)
The institutional church — despite withholding the
priesthood from blacks until 1978 — is embracing the spirit of its
founder, Joseph Smith, who ran for president on an
men to the priesthood. The church recently released new materials
written by scholars and church leaders
"the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of
divine disfavor … or that blacks or people of any other race or
ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders
today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any
Furthermore, as part of black history month,
BYU put on
the play, "I Am Jane" about the life of black Latter-day Saint
pioneer Jane Elizabeth Manning James. Jane walked hundreds of miles
barefoot in order to unite with the Mormons. The play was performed
by an almost entirely black cast.
Alex Boye participates at America's Freedom Festival at Brigham Young
University in Provo, Utah, Sunday, June 27, 2010. Jeffrey D. Allred,
Meanwhile, Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith, who go by
the name "Sistas in Zion,"
released their joint memoir
this year titled "Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons." Vranes and Smith
are now staples on the Latter-day Saint speaking circuit, and
is widely read within the “bloggernacle” (the Mormon online
Black Latter-day Saints, famous or not, are contributing to the
faith — and the broader world — in a panoply of ways. Earlier this
year, my local congregation in Connecticut sent off a 17-year-old
student for her freshman year at BYU. The adopted daughter of a
strong Latter-day Saint Caribbean-American mother, this young woman
is black, confident and incredibly bright. When asked about her
potential major at college, there was no hesitation: “engineering.”
Of course, if engineering doesn't work out, she could always run for
(Picture: Mia Love with Mitt Romney)
Boyd is a student at Yale Law School and co-editor of the
forthcoming "Psalms of Nauvoo: Early Mormon Poetry."
Copyright 2014, Deseret News