SALT LAKE CITY — Black students will go to college with $3 million in scholarships funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson announced Monday in a joint news conference with the UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and the NAACP.
The church and NAACP also will begin a new initiative to provide $6 million in humanitarian aid in inner cities in the United States and launch a fellowship to send up to 50 students to Ghana to learn about Black American and African history, they said.
"Together, we want to make a difference," President Nelson said.
The announcement was a major expansion in the three-year formal relationship between the NAACP and Latter-day Saints. The church and the Black organizations now are committed to extend the relationship at least three additional years at a total price tag of $9.25 million.
And their leaders said they expect the collaboration to grow.
Black leaders hailed the news. UNCF CEO Michael Lomax called President Nelson a new friend.
"I'm particularly excited," he said, "that I am here today on behalf of the United Negro College Fund to join in partnership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the NAACP in these three bold and important initiatives that will do so much to end the sense of marginalization and separation and pronounce our commitment to cooperation, partnership, shared humanity and love."
The Rev. Amos C. Brown, the NAACP's emeritus director of religious affairs, said the relationship is an example to the nation.
"Our democratic republic is under siege, but this very partnership of the NAACP and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be the saving factor to redeem the soul of the United States of America, so that we shall indeed become one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all," he said. "That is our goal. That is our focus. And I thank God that God enabled me at the age of 80 to stand here for this historic moment to say to America, look at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, look at the NAACP, for if you take what they use of love, civility, justice and peace, you won't lose."
For the past three years, the church and the NAACP have made repeated joint calls for racial harmony and have worked together to provide education, employment, legal and self-reliance support to disadvantaged, inner-city Black Americans in Chicago, San Francisco and other cities.
Monday's announcement came just ahead of Saturday's national Juneteenth celebrations.
"On this week of Juneteenth — a time designated to remember the end of slavery in the United States — we are honored to join with our dear friends from the NAACP and the UNCF to announce these goals and our shared vision," President Nelson said.
He said the organizations share passionate beliefs about "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man" that motivated Monday's actions.
"What do we do because of those beliefs?" he said. "We call for greater civility and kindness. And we work together to bless the lives of God's children. I have spoken repeatedly on these objectives and do so again today. I renew our call to abandon prejudice and promote civility, kindness and mutual respect. We seek to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation."
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said he was pleased the church was investing in Black students and schools. He also mentioned that both the church and American Black communities "have experienced extreme polarization and otherness."
"We are the church, we are the NAACP, we are God's people," Johnson said. "This announcement today can allow us to stand proudly together from various backgrounds, from various communities, from across the country so others can really say, 'I see the Christ in them.'"
Here are the details about the three initiatives:
The Latter-day Saints and UNCF
The church will provide $1 million per year for three years to the UNCF to help Black students in the United States.
UNCF CEO Michael Lomax said the church approached the NAACP about engaging with the United Negro College Fund as church and NAACP leaders talked about reaching low-income and first-generation students.
"For a lot of people, this is an unexpected partnership," said Lomax, who then paused to drop his jaw. "I think that we're both doing this with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be an example to the rest of the country of, 'If we can do it, you can, too.' You have to have confidence in yourself and in what you believe to be able to be bold enough to do something like this."
Johnson said it was a natural extension for a church committed to education and a Black civil rights organization that advocates for public policy and corporate policy change.
"We need young people who recognize they are the owners of government, not the victims of government," he said.
The need-based scholarships will begin this fall and the money will provide $5,000 per year for 58 full-time students per year for a total of 174 students over the three years. The goal is to see the first group of students through to graduation at the end of three years, said Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy.
To be eligible for the scholarships, students must have a 3.0 GPA and be enrolled full time entering their sophomore year at an accredited college or university, including historically Black colleges or universities and church schools.
They also must write a short essay about how they plan to build mutual respect and understanding within their circles of influence.
Humanitarian efforts for underprivileged U.S. areas
"We will help to teach important principles of self-reliance," President Nelson said. "We have committed $2 million per year for the next three years to encourage service and help to those in need. This is consistent with our many humanitarian efforts around the world for which our members have donated so generously."
The NAACP and church will select six metro areas for the projects, one in each of the church's designated North American areas and utilize the church's Just Serve volunteer network, Elder Gerard said. The NAACP will facilitate collaboration with its local branches, offices and community organizations.
Amos C. Brown Student Fellowship to Ghana
The church will provide $250,000 to create a fellowship to send 50 students to Ghana in the summer of 2022.
President Nelson stunned the Rev. Brown when he announced the fellowship would be named for him. The two have become fast friends since they linked arms in the same lobby three years ago at the news conference where church and NAACP leaders first announced their surprising shared initiatives.
The Rev. Brown has made repeated trips to Ghana.
"We will send scholars who will go to western Ghana and have that once-in-a-lifetime experience of witnessing that horrible, inhumane slave trade," he said, "not to become bitter over it but to become agents of betterment, so that we will be able to make real amends for that tragic, Atlantic slave trade."
Monday's announcement was made during a news conference in the lobby of the Church Administration Building on Temple Square, just a few steps outside President Nelson's office.
A day earlier, Johnson and two Latter-day Saint apostles shared the pulpit at a sacrament meeting in Salt Lake City, further signifying the joint projects and friendships that have developed between the church and the NAACP.
Johnson then asked Latter-day Saints to build a wall of love and inclusion strong enough to withstand outside forces trying to pull people apart. Elders Ronald A. Rasband and Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also spoke in the worship service and said that all people should remember Jesus Christ's teachings against contention and should have "their hearts knit together in unity and love."
The UNCF has raised $5 billion since it launched in 1944 and helped more than half a million Black students earn college degrees, according to its website. It provides funds for over 60,000 students and 37 historically black colleges and universities. The fund has been famous for decades by its tagline, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."
UNCF scholarship recipients have a 70% graduation rate, nine percentage points higher than the national average, according to its website.
Other church leaders who attended the news conference included Presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency and Elders Rasband and Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Several prominent people attended the news conference, including the president of the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP, Jeanetta Williams; the Rev. Oscar T. Moses, pastor of Salt Lake City's Calvary Baptist Church; and Mauli Bonner, the writer, director and producer of the new film "My Name Is Green Flake," about a Black Latter-day Saint pioneer.
Timeline of the NAACP/Latter-day Saint joint projects
- February 2018
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland makes a courtesy call to the historic NAACP's offices in Jackson, Mississippi, the base of operations for civil rights activist Medgar Evers before he was assassinated in 1963. Elder Holland finds the office needed repairs and arranges for materials and full-time missionaries and Young Single Adults to paint and make electrical and plumbing repairs.
- May 2018
NAACP President Derrick Johnson and Chairman Leon Russell stand with President Russell M. Nelson in a joint declaration calling on the entire world "to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect." The announcement came as the NAACP held its quarterly national board meetings in Salt Lake City for the first time. The image of President Nelson standing arm-in-arm with the Rev. Amos Brown of the NAACP became a symbol of the shared initiatives.
- June 2018
The church hosts a "Be One" celebration for the 40th anniversary of the revelation that lifted restrictions on priesthood ordinances and temple blessings for Blacks. President Nelson expressed a "passionate desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation." His first counselor in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks, acknowledged and said he shared the pain Blacks felt about the restriction.
- July 2018
At the NAACP national convention in San Antonio, the church and NAACP announce the launch of an education, employment and self-reliance initiative for inner-city Blacks. "Our unified vision is not only equality of education and income but, perhaps more importantly, equality of influence," said Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy of the church. One NAACP leader happily joked about "strange bedfellows" with a Latter-day Saint leader when they discussed the joint projects between the church and what Russell has called "oldest, largest, most cussed, most discussed and most effective civil rights and social justice organization."
- July 2019
President Nelson speaks at the NAACP convention in Detroit and says, "We want to be dear friends." A speaking role at the convention for the president of a church that once banned Black members from priesthood ordinances and temple blessings had been unimagined by either the church or the NAACP earlier, but the speech happened on the same site where Martin Luther King Jr. once issued a call to transform "the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."
- October 2019
President Nelson makes a yearlong plea in 2019 to "build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation," repeating the message around the world, from the Vatican to the Pacific Islands. He explained the origin of the phrase to the Deseret News.
- July 2020
In the wake of George Floyd's murder, Johnson, Russell, Brown and President Nelson publish a joint opinion piece pleading for racial reform, calling on "government, business and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all."
- Oct. 3, 2020
Three months later, President Oaks uses similar language from the pulpit in the church's international general conference, calling on its members to "root out racism."
- Oct. 4, 2020
The next day, President Nelson goes to the same pulpit and pleads with the church's 16.5 million members to abandon racism and prejudice.
- Oct. 27, 2020
President Oaks speaks at Brigham Young University and tells students, faculty and staff to heed "President Nelson's powerful doctrinal condemnation of racism and prejudice."
- June 13, 2021
Johnson speaks in a Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting in the home ward of Elders Ronald A. Rasband and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Rasband called the NAACP "dear friends" and Johnson asked Latter-day Saints to build walls of love, inclusion so God can "bring all of our geniuses together."
- June 14, 2021
Johnson, Brown and President Nelson join the Negro College Fund in a joint announcement that the church will provide $9.25 million to help Black causes through scholarships for Black students, new humanitarian efforts in inner cities and a fellowship to send up to 50 students to Ghana to learn about the inhumanity of the Transatlantic slave trade.