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President Nelson to speak at NAACP national convention on Sunday

FILE - President Russell M. Nelson, and his wife sister Wendy Nelson smile and wave to the crowd as they and the others make their way off the stage at the Amway Center in Orlando Florida on Sunday, June 9, 2019.
FILE - President Russell M. Nelson, and his wife sister Wendy Nelson smile and wave to the crowd as they and the others make their way off the stage at the Amway Center in Orlando Florida on Sunday, June 9, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — President Russell M. Nelson will speak at the 110th NAACP Annual Convention in Detroit on Sunday, a signal of the strength of the year-old partnership between the organization for the advancement of African Americans and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Nelson will speak during the convention's public mass meeting Sunday evening at the Cobo Center, where he will join the keynote speaker, Leon Russell, the influential chairman of the NAACP's national board of directors, the church announced Wednesday.

"I'm honored to have The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stand in unity with the NAACP to advance equality and justice for all," NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. "We must recognize and accept the importance of creating amity with those that are raising the consciousness of this nation — the church is committed to doing just that."

Inside the collaboration between the LDS Church and NAACP

The church's release said church leaders have prioritized its partnership with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In May 2018, President Nelson met with Russell and Johnson and hatched a historic new partnership.

Then they stood together in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City to issue a call for racial and ethnic harmony and an end to prejudice.

Two months later, the partnership began to take shape. A church leader stood in front of the 109th NAACP national convention in San Antonio and announced that the faith's self-reliance program would partner with NAACP chapters around the country to help provide education and employment training.

"Our unified vision is not only equality of education and income, but, perhaps more importantly, equality of influence," Elder Jack N. Gerard told the Deseret News immediately after he made the announcement. A General Authority Seventy of the church, Elder Gerard is executive director of the Public Affairs.

The NAACP's website lists speakers for this year's convention as "frontline advocates committed to raising awareness for political, educational, social and economic equality."

The church is offering its globally tested self-reliance program to provide free training to members of NAACP chapters in personal finance, entrepreneurship and better employment through education.

Pilot programs are underway in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and Charlotte. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take the role of facilitators in the courses and the church provides specialized materials. The courses are designed for self- and group-discovery as the students take turns leading discussions based on the materials.

This year's NAACP convention begins Saturday and runs through July 24, when the convention will host a forum for eight Democratic presidential candidates — former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, former HUD secretary Julián Castro and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to speak on Monday morning.

The theme of the conference is, "When we fight, we win," a nod to the NAACP's 110-year history of fighting for and winning civil rights.

"It also highlights the organization's continued efforts to fight against the growing climate of racism and hate that threatens the moral fabric of our society in ways we haven't seen in generations," according to a news release.

Last year's theme was "Defeat Hate: Vote."

NAACP leaders sought to calm wary conventioneers concerned about the church's past ban on blacks holding the faith's priesthood, which ended in 1978.

"We're saying, notwithstanding anything that's happened in the past with the LDS Church, this is the relationship we're going to have. That's a major statement for us," Wil Colom, special counsel to Johnson, told the Deseret News last year.

That message was conveyed mostly strongly by the vice chair of the NAACP's national board of directors, Karen Boykin-Towns.

"I was definitely one of those folks wondering, why are we going to Utah?" she told 8,000 people in the convention hall after Elder Gerard's announcement of the joint initiative. "But in the days that followed ... I learned we were going to Utah because change cannot happen in a vacuum. We were going to Utah because inclusivity is important in this next-level fight. And I learned there was common ground to be had in partnering with the Mormons around social justice issues."

The collaboration holds promise for people in both the NAACP and the church, Boykin-Towns added.

"For the approximately 500,000 black Mormons in their church, our visit and our meeting was surprising, impactful and groundbreaking," she said. "Despite our reservations, we left that meeting with a better understanding of each other's history and desire to acknowledge the past and to move forward for the common good."