Alex Boye's mother sent him to a boarding school north of London when he was 11 years old and told him she'd visit in three weeks. Instead, she moved to Nigeria and stayed for eight years. He never stopped looking for her on Parents Day.
Boye thought the sad, lonely feelings that peppered his adolescence were gone for good when at his baptism into the Mormon faith about five years later, he felt joy and happiness like he'd never known.
But within days he felt abandoned yet again, this time by God, when he was kicked out of his uncle's house in London, where he stayed during summer vacation, just one week after joining the church.
"A week after I joined the church, I was homeless," Boye said. With all those good feelings replaced by bad ones, he said he thought, " 'What have I done? Life is worse,'" that first night in 1986 when he slept in an abandoned, white van.
Boye, a London native, recording artist and member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, spoke and sang Sunday, Aug. 2, at the closing fireside of the Young Single Adult Summit for 18- to 31-year-olds in the Riverton, West Jordan, South Jordan, Kearns and Taylorsville regions.
He said his experience being a 16-year-old convert in a faith that got him kicked out of his house made him realize quickly he wasn't exempt from adversity just because he belonged to the church he believed to be true.
"Just because you're a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't mean that everything is going to go right," he counseled the young adults and their advisers who filled the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
His uncle, whom Boye said he loves to this day, partied regularly, and it was Boye's job to go to the liquor store each weekend to purchase the alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and tea his uncle outlined on a list. In the days after his baptism, Boye dreaded the coming weekend, because he knew he'd have to refuse his uncle, who was kind enough to let him stay with him. When the time came, Boye made it part of the way to the liquor store before he turned around and told his uncle "no." His uncle responded by packing up Boye's suitcase and telling him to never come back.
Boye's address was punctuated with music and song as his pianist accompanied both his speech and solo performances throughout the evening, including when Boye re-created his favorite scene from the Sylvester Stalone movie "Rocky V." He pantomimed throughout his speech, bringing the audience to rolling laughter several times.
Sometimes people put on brave faces to mask their struggles, Boye said. Comparing members to swans, he described how it may appear on the outside that everything is OK, while below the surface, they're paddling frantically.
"Sometimes we think everyone has got it easy," Boye said. But in reality, if we could choose between our own struggles and the struggles others face, we'd likely choose our own.
As acute as these hardships can be, though, it's important to not allow one's hardships to create in them a sour temperament and negative disposition. He said he's recently discovered that the most important part of the day is the five minutes before a person falls asleep. If those minutes are filled with thoughts of negativity and contempt, those thoughts will fester all night long and get into their subconscious, wreaking havoc on their soul.
If, however, members of the church would just let go of negativity and think positively in those last five minutes, they would be so effective in the gospel.
"We would be dangerous" to Satan's plans, he said.
Boye sang "I Believe in Him," by Kenneth Cope, and a song titled "Word of God Speak," in the middle of his address. Boye's concluding counsel was in regard to entertainment. He encouraged the YSAs to be selective in their music and movie choices, stating that the content of rap and hip-hop songs is particularly bad.
"Whether we believe it or not, entertainment shapes who we are. … Hip-hop and rap music almost kept me from going on my mission," he said. "And you can't argue with me because I'm a black man," he joked.
Boye's remarks shifted smoothly between laugh-out-loud funny and quiet and contemplative, with Boye pausing on several occasions as he was overcome with emotion.
Just as he was preparing to sing his final hymn, "How Great Thou Art," Boye took an aside to share how he came to grips with being a black man in a faith that didn't allow blacks to have the priesthood until 1978. He said he at times struggled with the ban, particularly during his mission, but the Lord told him profoundly that the church was true.
All faiths went through the exact same challenge, he said, but at least the Mormon faith has an official declaration that came out of it.
To read more from the YSA Summit, go to MormonTimes.com.