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In our opinion: Answers to racism come from open hearts and humility

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson with the Rev. Theresa Dear while meeting with NAACP leaders at the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

While Utah lawmakers contemplate banning certain police conduct and the Minneapolis city council commits to “dismantling” its police force, civil society offers the country a valuable model of race relations built on humility, respect and dignity.

In an op-ed posted Monday on Medium, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and leaders from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People confirmed as much: “Unitedly we declare that the answers to racism, prejudice, discrimination and hate will not come from government or law enforcement alone.”

“Solutions,” they wrote, “will come as we open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, as we work to build bonds of genuine friendship, and as we see each other as the brothers and sisters we are ...”

Together, the two organizations are committed to improving families and the communities in which they live.

The NAACP and the Church of Jesus Christ, which owns this publication, first engaged in a partnership in 2018 to adopt and modify the church’s self-reliance program for inner-city and minority communities. The results are more than encouraging.

The program, a 12-week financial literacy and employment initiative, teaches the fundamentals of budgeting, paying down debt and saving for emergencies. The pilot for the collaboration with the NAACP took place last year in the west side of Chicago and in San Francisco. By the end of June, 100 students had graduated.

Theresa Dear, then vice chairwoman of the NAACP’s religious affairs committee, told the organization’s national board of directors, “Based on the feedback from the participants and based on the wonderful relationship we had with the Utah team and the church, I absolutely believe this partnership or program should continue.”

“We have an opportunity to break generational cycles,” Dear told the Deseret News last year. “Children who have seen parents unemployed for years now will see role models in their households getting jobs and moving from rental programs to home ownership.”

But the lesson here isn’t one of financial awareness; it’s a reminder that humility and respect will lead the country forward — proof of which is found in the partnership itself.

Misperceptions delayed the program’s launch. Church staffers believed the self-reliance course, which had been tested in countries around the world, could be plugged into the inner-city workgroups. NAACP recognized at once things needed to change.

They modified the materials by including more African American visuals, rearranging chapters, and adding sections on credit scores, predatory lending practices and loaning money to family members. The result was a course tailored for its participants.

That cycle — partnering, listening and modifying — is crucial to the success of this moment’s raw emotion. The protests aim to create long-due change, but that change is best served by rejecting hubris and making internal improvements where deficiencies lie.

Striking an optimistic tone, the op-ed continued, “Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can.” These two organizations have found a model to overcome the past, unite in the present and begin to forge a better future.

Their challenge is ours to the nation: “We first linked arms as friends and have now locked arms in love and brotherhood. The people of America can do the same.”