DETROIT — President Russell M. Nelson cut short his summer vacation to lock arms with a legendary civil rights activist on Sunday night and declare at the NAACP’s 110th national convention that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to become dear friends with the African American community.
Standing near the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the banks of the Detroit River, President Nelson stood arm in arm with one of King’s students, the Rev. Amos C. Brown, in the midst of a national conversation about racism and xenophobia.
Rev. Brown introduced President Nelson as “a brother from another mother and a brother from another faith tradition and another race” to 3,000 people at the convention’s public mass meeting in the Cobo Center at the corner of Washington and Jefferson, near the eastern terminus of the Rosa Parks Memorial Highway.
“We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us,” President Nelson said. “We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other. If we have any hope of reclaiming the goodwill and sense of humanity for which we yearn, it must begin with each of us, one person at a time.”
The speech was a landmark. A speaking role at the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the Motor City, for the president of a church that once banned black members from priesthood ordinances and temple blessings, was unimagined by either the church or the NAACP 18 months ago.
“True community begins with just such relationships; with loving our neighbor; with honoring and serving each other,” President Nelson said at the convention. “This is the spirit behind the cooperation shared by the NAACP and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
On Saturday night, the Detroit News published a joint op-ed written by Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the church’s Relief Society General Presidency, and Karen Boykin-Towns, vice chair of the NAACP board of directors.
“By having the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak in the same city and space where King once marched, the NAACP is demonstrating once again that it stands on the side of collaboration and cooperation,” the two women wrote. “And, at a time when we have too many social divisions and partitions, this emerging partnership between the NAACP and the Church echoes, in some small way, King’s call in Cobo Hall to transform ‘the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.'”
At the podium on Sunday night, President Nelson called Medgar Evers a hero. An assassin shot and killed Evers, a black World War II veteran who fought segregation in Mississippi, after an NAACP meeting in 1963.
“Medgar Evers is a true patriot. He died in the cause of freedom,” President Nelson said.