See, I figured that a free conference on the important and sometimes controversial topic of Black Saints in the Mormon fold would have filled the Utah Museum of Fine Art auditorium.
Turns out I needn’t have worried so much. And in a conference full of heartbreaking stories, the fact that there were so many empty seats ranked up there as the saddest thing I witnessed.
But we can change that. We must change that. We can virtually fill those empty seats and sit back and listen and learn from our Black Brothers and Sisters because the Tanner Humanities Center just released the videos to the conference.
Why is this important? Because these men and women are, as they explain “speaking truth” and opening their mouths and hearts in the most vulnerable ways and giving us a glimpse at shared and individual past pain so that we can work together to do what we can to avoid future pain.
And we must do it quickly. Because amidst the spiritual power, the eloquence, the laughter, the anger, the intellect, the creativity, I witnessed something else:
I really can’t speak to it, but I try to imagine telling my stories over and over again and being met with indifference, anger, shrugged shoulders, and, what I saw at the conference, justifications that danced on the edge of damaging dismissal. What would it be like to have worked so hard like Darius Gray for more African American student to attend BYU to only find out that the numbers are the roughly the same as forty years ago? (Visual representation of this from the BYU 2015 Homecoming video here. Note the ironic line “we come from all over the world.”) These men and women continue to be told “well that’s not my experience…..” with an easily construed implication of “so your experiences are not valid.”
Instead we should be mourning with those who mourn. Having hands outstretched. Making room at the pond. We may not ever understand, but that doesn’t mean we don’t encircle them as they are of our fold. There stories are part of our Mormon heritage. They are us. We are them. We are Saints together.
So I feel an urgency to share these videos and plead with all those who see this to watch them. To make the experience more real to how it happened, please check out this storified version of the Tweets. Watch real-time reaction to Elder Sitati’s talk. Or to the BYU and the Ward conference. Or everything. It’s all important.
Listen and learn and virtually fill those empty seats so that we don’t have more seats emptied.