“Being Black is Complicated”

Contributed by Jessi Duncan, Arkansas

When I was 17 my little sister told a boy that lived on our street how excited she was that our older brother was coming home for a brief weekend visit. The kid was shocked that they were letting my brother come home from prison for the weekend. My sister responded that he was not in prison he was in college at BYU. This kid, who would be in prison less than 5 years later himself, asked a very telling question, “He’s in college?! Is he white? 

Being black is complicated in the US and especially in religion within the US.

I have spent the last week and a half trying to find words to describe my recent trip to D.C. to participate in the Black LDS Legacy Conference. 

A few days ago I was reminded of a short story in the Old Testament that I hadn’t thought of in a long time but that gave me all the words. The whole story is told in just a few verses in Exodus 17. A group of people called the Amalekites attack the children of Israel shortly after they are freed from Egypt. Moses tells Joshua to gather men and fight the people of Amalek and that he (Moses) will stand on a nearby hill and hold his staff, the rod of God over his head. Here’s what the scriptures say happened: 

“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.(v.11)”

The scriptures say that Moses’ hands grew heavy with weariness. Fortunately for Moses God foresaw that and had already provided a way. Joshua and another man named Hur stationed themselves on either side of Moses and supported his weary hands and arms. The scriptures say:

“and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.(v. 12)”

Y’all until I got to that conference and was surrounded by resilient faith and determined hope and powerful truth I did not know how tired my arms had become. We spoke and heard real hard truths that we don’t talk about often enough and it was a healing experience that changed my life. 

My whole life I have not been enough. Not black enough. Not white enough. My Spanish wasn’t good enough. The list could go on and on for all of us.

Last weekend I attended the Black LDS Legacy Conference in Washington D.C. and came away with a powerful feeling of Grace and Hope. I’ll be the first to admit that I went into this a little bit nervous. The way the world and especially our country is going even groups that promote belonging are polarizing individuals. I am liberal but am I liberal enough if I don’t vote this certain way. Conservatives are facing the same pressures. Are you conservative enough? It’s happening in our faith groups and in our families and friendships.

This conference was an example of what is possible if our focus is on Christ who is enough. We went in different and all were edified together. I return to my stake where I am the only active black woman that I know of and to my congregation where I am the Relief Society President (women’s ministry director) tasked with unifying and loving 270+ women not a single one of whom is even remotely similar to me (did I mention we are a bilingual congregation). Because of the BLDS Legacy Conference I feel strengthened in my resolve to take my issues to the Lord and through those issues grow closer to Him. I am tired and I am weak and I actually right at this moment want to quit but because of the support I received at this wonderful event my hands have been steadied and I will continue. As a new friend at the event told me, “I belong because God told me I do.” May you each find the strength this week and this month and this year to live your beliefs regardless of whether or not those who surround you think that you are enough. Because guess what? You are.