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    A Good Example for All

     

    Melissa Leilani Larson


    Jane Manning James was a pioneer in every sense of the word. As a young, freeborn Black woman, she strove to center her life on Christ. She wasn’t satisfied with the Spirit she felt in Sunday services until she heard Latter-day Saint missionaries preaching in her hometown of Wilton, Connecticut. Jane was so moved by what she learned that she was baptized within the week. Her whole family, buoyed up by Jane’s joy and testimony, also joined the Church, following the missionaries to Nauvoo in 1843.


    Upon arriving in Nauvoo, the Mannings befriended Joseph and Emma Smith and Jane became a permanent fixture working and living in the Smith family hotel. It was there that Jane met her future husband, Isaac James, and established a close friendship with Emma Smith. Emma invited Jane to be sealed as a child to her and Joseph, but the sealing power was a very new concept, and Jane confessed to not completely understanding it. She told Emma no.


    Jane and Isaac were among the first Saints to trek west. Jane gave birth to a son along the trail in Iowa. At Winter Quarters, she didn’t hesitate to give half her store of flour—two precious pounds—to her friend, Eliza Partridge Lyman. Jane and Isaac arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in September 1847, where Jane would remain the rest of her life, unswerving in both her faith and support of the Relief Society.


    Yet to many modern Saints, Jane’s story is unfamiliar. Her voice hasn’t been lost, thanks to the diligence of Black Latter-day Saints who recognize and relate to Jane’s steadfastness. But Jane’s is a name and story all Latter-day Saints should know and cherish. Her faith is a beacon to everyone with a desire to know Jesus Christ.


    Years after leaving the Nauvoo temple behind, Jane watched another rise in Salt Lake City. She was able to enter it and be baptized for her “kindred dead,” but because of her race, she was not allowed to receive her endowment or be sealed to her husband and children.


    Jane now realized the importance of what Emma had offered her back in Nauvoo. She wrote humble, straightforward letters to her leaders asking to complete her temple ordinances: “Is there no blessing for me?”


    Jane very likely had personal interactions with every Church president who served during her lifetime, including Joseph F. Smith, who called her “Aunt Jane” when he spoke at her funeral. She sat in the front row of the Tabernacle every Sunday and paid a full tithe. And yet her continual requests to be endowed and sealed were denied.


    Fifty years after Emma and Joseph offered to adopt Jane as a child for eternity, Jane continued to petition Church leaders to honor that promise. That year, in 1894, Wilford Woodruff approved a proxy ceremony that “attached” Jane to the Smiths as a servant. But Jane was not satisfied; this “attachment” did not fulfill Emma’s offer or ensure Jane’s eternal salvation. She continued her appeals until her death in 1908.


    Jane’s temple work would remain unfinished until 1979, the year after the priesthood and temple ban against Black Saints was lifted.  


    In writing the screenplay for JANE AND EMMA, I’ve had the opportunity not only to listen to Jane’s voice but to study and amplify it. I want her story to become as familiar and dear to other Saints as it is to me. What we have tried to do with this film is present Jane as completely as possible—as real, thinking, breathing person with wants, hopes, and flaws. Through the power of drama, we have the chance not only to hear about Jane’s faith but to see her put it into practice.


    When I’m faced with difficult days, it’s easy to think— “I don’t need to go church today, it’s too hard,” or “I’m too tired.” But now I often think of Jane—of what she was asked to do, and how willingly she did it, even when she knew what she deserved and what she was denied. Jane had every reason in the world to leave the Church, but she stayed. She knew where God wanted her to be, and she held His expectations above everyone else’s.


    “I try in my feeble way to set a good example for all,” Jane said.


    Hers is a voice we all need to hear and echo.


    **

    Melissa Leilani Larson wrote the screenplay for the upcoming film JANE AND EMMA, as well as 2015’s FREETOWN (Utah Film Award Best Picture, Ghana Movie Award, Best Screenplay). The winner of 3 Association for Mormon Letters Drama Awards, her plays include SWEETHEART COME, THE EDIBLE COMPLEX, PILOT PROGRAM, LITTLE HAPPY SECRETS, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. She was recently commissioned by UVU to adapt Kelly Barnhill’s THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON for the stage. Mel earned her MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.

    The Black Cain in White Garments

    My time as a model forced me to take note of the striking under-representation of women of color in the fashion industry. Runway show after runway show was a long string of white women with the occasional token black model. From day one of Q.NOOR, I have made an intense effort to have an ethnically diverse group of models on our site and Instagram. Finding models of color for sure takes more time, but I feel a deep responsibility to do so. 

     Representation matters.

    Today I am honored to feature the BYU 2018 Martin Luther King Day Student Essay Contest winner, “The Black Cain in White Garments,” by Melodie Jackson.

    We still have work to do to end racism in our LDS community. LISTENING to the words and learning from the experiences of our Black sisters is a great way to start.

    The contest essay prompt:

     June 8, 2018 will mark the 40th Anniversary of the LDS Church’s historic revelation restoring priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy members. In connection with the King holiday and in celebration and contemplation of this important moment in LDS history, we invite you to explore and reflect on Official Declaration 2, the Church’s “Race and the Priesthood” website, and recent statements by LDS leaders on current racial issues, and to write an essay discussing the long struggle for freedom and the work of building Zion.

     

     

    The contest winning essay:

     I talked to my grandmother the other day. Though age beats upon her brow and 3 scores and 10 asks remembrance of her body, her mind slips into repetition and comments about doing right and trusting in God, and not having taken an aspirin in 20 years. She remembers the fields.

     “We lived on white’s man land,” she said: “We spent our days sharecropping on his land. Those were hard days. Sometimes we were overworked to exhaustion. But Papa never let us miss school. No matter how many crops we had to picked, we went to school. We would walk eight miles there and eight miles back. The white children passed by and laughed, but we kept walking. Sometimes it would just be me and three more other students in the classroom during harvesting season. The fields and school. We first went to school and then to the fields.”

     The complexities of being Mormon (LDS) ad African-American are so far-reaching that it’s often difficult to articulate. In a Church that boasts 15 million members worldwide, one may ask “Why?” Well, my blackness has been a direct opposition to a church that has distanced such to reclaim whiteness. Paul Reeve, a Mormon historian, stated in his book, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, that the LDS church reshaped its identity and gained acceptance from the American public by alienating blackness almost completely. Though earlier black men like Elijah Abel and Walker Lewis held LDS Priesthood and participated fully in LDS congregations, in later years, missionaries were banned from directly seeking African American investigators. Many black and African cultural practices, such as black religious art, music, and root work were taught as wicked traditions of fathers that lacked “inspiration” from God. Black members’ church participation was subsequently limited to baptism, confirmation, and sacrament. The necessary ordinances of exaltation and other blessings, like sealings, endowments, and missions were denied only to blacks of African descent in this attempt to reclaim whiteness.

     The Church refused the black body whole recognition and divinity. To Nephi, I was not fair and delightsome. To Joseph, I was a violator of the most sacred principles of society, chastity and virtue. To Brigham, I was Cain’s curse. To McConkie, I was an unfaithful spirit, a “fence-sitter.” To you, I am colorless, my blackness swallowed in that whiteness reclaimed, “a child of God.” Seemingly, I am invisible yet hypervisible; for my body, although shaped and twisted into Mormonism’ image, will never fit properly in a culture that quickly vacuums spaces for blackness. To be Black and LDS is to be black first and LDS second, lest your identity is erased by “faith” and you become invisible and nonexistent.

     Moreover, while conversations regarding black bodies within a Mormon imagination often surround those bodies male and black, there is a void of black female voices. We must create space for and re-center conversations on black LDS women. The priesthood ban should be labeled “The Priesthood and Temple Ban.” The Church discarded black women’s divinity and recognition, too, among LDS congregations, by denying temple access and blessings. Though many women remain nameless and faceless, in discussing bans and declarations, we must remember the Jane Manning James, the Mary Francis Sturlaugsons, and the Alice Burches. These conversations must bleed into our present wards as we navigate the current racial and cultural tensions against the Sistas in Zion, the Janan Graham Russells, and even the Melodie Jacksons.

     On the cusp of the 40th anniversary of the “Priesthood and Temple Ban,” we mustn’t neglect current racial strife and dissonance in our own spaces. We should recognize that black members still struggle. I still struggle. We must go to school. We must learn our history. We must remember, if we are to labor in the fields, “white already to harvest.”

     My grandmother taught me repeatedly, “School first, then the fields.” The road is difficult. I am often jeered along the way, but I keep walking. Even if it’s just myself in the classroom of Mormon historical truth, I remain. I am on white man’s land and am frequently overworked to exhaustion. Some days are hard. But, my Heavenly Father, my ancestors, my grandmother, Jane Manning James won’t let me miss school. I must seek first to obtain the word before I can work in God’s field. My hope is that we wander no longer in the wilderness of denial, racism, and silence for another 40 years. Like Jane Manning James painstakingly wondered, “Is there no blessing for me?” Zion’s blessings will come only when black members are visible, acknowledged, heard, and truly unbanned from within LDS congregations.

     

    Crowned in Charity and Power

     

    I don't think I can express to you how honored I am to share this piece on Q.NOOR's blog. I named this company Q.NOOR, meaning Queen of Light, because my mom always taught me that I was a queen-in-training. 

    My desire to learn about my fellow queens-in-training and women of God, both Mother and Father, has grown so strong in the last few years of my life. Amber has truly offered us a gift in this piece, Crowned in Charity and Power. In this piece, Amber introduces to us women we all should be honored to know and by so doing helps us better understand ourselves and our Heavenly Mother. 

    I hope you will read and study this lesson. I hope you will think about it deeply. I hope you will share it with the WOMEN and MEN in your life. Everyone can be blessed by the examples of these Queens. 

    Amber, we thank you!

    Please CLICK HERE to download the piece. 

    Amber is a writer and storyteller living in Provo, Utah. Her latest endeavor, Splitting the Sky, is a YouTube documentary series that captures the stories of women connecting with God. Follow her production company @welcometableproductions on Instagram for information regarding other upcoming projects!

    Girl Power Gift Guide

    Clothes are fun, but knowledge is freaking forever!
    Check out this little list of rad book recommendations for the women in your life. 
    There is one shirt, because like I said, clothes are fun. 
       
    The sweetest children's book sharing the stories of strong women.
     
    A BEAUTIFUL coffee table book sharing the stories of women in business.
     
    A group of talks given by women in the church and my favorite book in all the land! You'll never be so proud to be a woman in this church.
     
    TEAR JERKER. This book will give you all the feelings and make you feel connected to Heavenly Mother in a way you may not have realized you craved. 
     
    Brene Brown said this book is the reason she is still married and that's good enough for me!
    "No exaggeration, no hyperbole, it changed my life." Brene Brown
         
    This is beautiful workbook teaches boys and girls about strong and good women. Order the recent issue or a whole subscription.

    Just the cutest little Ts in big and little girl sizes.

    Seek Ye Out The Best Books

    Lately, I've been trying to balance out the amount of time that I spend reading Taylor Swift fan theories and watching puppy gifs with some actual substance. It is so easy to fill our heads and time with junk material, I thought I would try to make it a little easier for you to enjoy something a little healthier for your brain. I'll add to the list as I finish more of the giant stack next to my bed, but this is a pretty good start. 

     

    Mother's Milk

    Mother's Milk is the best $10 you'll ever spend. It is a small book of poems about Heavenly Mother. If you're not a poem person, don't let that stop you. I'm not of a poem person either and I LOVED IT! I sat down thinking I'd read a little and ended up reading the whole thing and in tears. Mother's Milk soothed an ache for Heavenly Mother that I didn't know I had. You will never regret reading this little book of wisdom. 

     

    At the Pulpit 

    At the Pulpit is modern scripture in my eyes. It is a compilation of talks given by women over the last 185 years. I can not stress how rad the vast majority of these talks are. Do they share solid doctrine that is both inspiring and educational? Yes. Do they empower me by teaching me about the long line of LEGIT disciples of Christ that came before me? H*CK YES! I think every man and women in the church should read these talks because it truly helped me better understand the role of women in the church as teachers and leaders.

     

    First Principle and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple 

    Title? Good not great. Actual book? FREAKING GREAT! There is so much going on in the Church. This book has helped me get back to the basics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With a heavy focus on relationships with God, this book helps us refocus on what matters most. 

     

    I Dare You To Eat It

     I know. I know! A food storage book?! Here is the deal. 1. The author is super funny. How do I know? Well because I've read the book and she's my freaking MOTHER! 2. This isn't a book on how to make and preserve your own cheese and toothpaste. This is a no-nonsense guide to help swallow and digest the Church's teaching on food storage. This book will help you follow the prophet, save money, and have peace of mind. If you want more than that, I can't help you. ;)

     

    She Persisted

    A sweet children's book that tells the story of a handful of women who overcame challenges to accomplish big things. A very good read for both your sons and daughters. 

     

    Big Magic

    Big Magic SAVED Q.NOOR. Weeks before launching Q.NOOR I gradually became paralyzed with fear. What if this was a huge mistake? What if no one buys the dresses? This could ruin me financially. This could be so embarrassing. If I could remember who recommend Big Magic to me I would give them anything they wanted. Big Magic helped me put creativity and fear and risk into perspective. It helped me find the courage I needed to work my butt off to make Q.NOOR happen. It is possibly the healthiest book I have ever read. 

    What am I reading next? No one asked but...

    One Hundred Birds Taught me To Fly: The Art of Speaking to God