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    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


    Ok, so if you have been a member of the Church long enough to be preparing to serve a mission, you've heard of the MTC plenty. You probably have family members and friends who have shared countless accounts of crazy funny and spiritual experiences there. And if you don't know already you NEED to know that the Provo MTC has BYU Creamery chocolate milk ON TAP!

    So, you know about the MTC, but do you really know what to expect or how the MTC works? ESPECIALLY if you aren't learning a language! More importantly, do you know how to prepare for the MTC experience? 

    One of the greatest blessings of my life will always be the year I spent teaching at the MTC. I learned more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ from my time in the MTC than my time as a missionary… which is honestly more a personal problem. Spending any amount of time there should truly be treated as a blessing. 

    In the MTC you begin living the missionary schedule in the sense that you wake up and go to bed at the standard times, but everything else is a little wacky.

    Here are a few scheduling things you can count on:

    • Every day you’ll have time to exercise.
      • The MTC has a massive gym perfect for basketball, four square, and running laps. There are places you can stretch and hypothetically do yoga, but finding your zen in the same room as 50 bouncing basketballs isn’t for the faint of heart.
      • You can also work out in your room, take a walk around the MTC campus, and when the weather is nice you can play Frisbee, kickball, volleyball and more on the upper field.

    • There will be lots of study time… and I mean LOTS.
      • You will have personal study time, companionship study time, language study time (when applicable), and more study time. There can be so much study time that your brain starts to feel like mush.
      • Study tips:
        • You will have your whole mission to soak in these principles. One day your Preach My Gospel will feel as familiar as your favorite t shirt. You’ll get there. There is no rush.
        • Plan and Diversify. Avoid study burn out by planning and getting creative. Have a list of topics that you would like to learn more about. Switch between different resources. Spend some time just simply reading the scriptures. Familiarize yourself with Christ’s parables.
      • Class time and teachers.
        • When you get to the MTC you are assigned a district. A district is just a group of 6-10 ish missionaries. Usually about half of your district will be going to the same mission as you. Each district is assigned two teachers.
        • Every day you will have two three hour blocks of class. One block with each teacher a day. Class can feel long, but they do their best to keep it moving with variety in activities.
      • In my humble opinion, the most important thing you can learn from your teachers is how to love and teach people you just met. Pay attention to how they teach you. BE HUMBLE. Trust them. The Church dumps a lot of money into continually training MTC teachers. When the Church wants to implement a new teaching style with the missionaries, they train the MTC teachers first.
      • Role playing
        • Role playing is one of the best ways to practice teaching and it helps you understand what it feels like to be both a missionary and an investigator. No one is too good for role playing.
        • By the end of your mission you will be a role-playing pro, but at first, it feels weird and hokey. And that’s ok. My suggestion would be to dive in head first. The only people who look like idiots are those who hold back. You’re already in the MTC you might as well go big.
        • If you buy into the role-playing magic, it can bless you your entire life. I can’t tell you how many times I have forced a roommate to role play a tough conversation with a coworker, friend, or boyfriend with me. It is a true skill, but it takes practice.
      • Exhaustion
        • At one time or another, you will be mentally, emotionally and physically tired in a way you didn’t know was possible. You would pay a million dollars for an hour nap in your own bed, but here is the thing: this is life. From here on out, part of life as an adult is kinda always wanting a nap. Lean into this, but don’t lean too far. If you are feeling like you’re going to snap, find a way to work a 15-minute nap into your schedule. This is just me, but I think Heavenly Father would rather have you spend a little time resting your mind so you can take full advantage of your studies over you “studying” like a zombie.

    Much like mission advice, everyone has a million opinions. I recently got a lot of good advice from some incredibly bright and experienced women. I’m going to share some of their tips below, but first I want to give my two cents.

    I literally just have two tips.

    1. Get comfortable communicating with the spirit in your everyday life. Know what if feels like to get a little prompting or good idea and then IMMEDIATELY act on it. If you build that relationship before you put on that name tag, you will a million times better off. Let Heavenly Father know he can trust you to run whatever errands He needs taken care of. You can do this by simply praying that you will be more aware of His hand in your life. He is already there, you just need to notice Him.
    2. Soak in the MTC, but don’t drown. The MTC can be like a little magical spiritual Disneyland, or it can feel like a smothering wet blanket. Sometimes, a little of both. Take advantage of the time that you have to focus on learning and preparing. This means you need to be humble and recognize that you have stuff to learn and prepare for, but don’t stress about learning everything all at once. You will not be a perfect missionary the day you enter the field, nor the day you leave. Serving a mission isn’t about being the perfect missionary. It’s about learning, growing, and changing so you can better help others do the same.

    Ok, jk. I have one more tip.

    1. When you put on that badge you are going to feel a vacuum sucking you into a perfect robot missionary mold. Fight it. Fight that pressure with everything you have. Your call letter includes your first name. God called you and your personality and everything that makes you unique to serve. He didn’t call some robot-cookie-cutter version of you. Maintain who you are. Not because you are better than anyone, but because there are people who need YOU and His Gospel. God loves YOU and He wants you to enjoy your mission. There will be days that are VERY hard to enjoy, but it will be so much easier if you maintain your “you-ness.”

    Rad tips from rad humans:

    • If you are learning a language, take your Speak Your Language challenges seriously. I know that being diligent in my HSI (habla su idoma) practice helped my language skills more than almost anything else . . . except for reading The Book of Mormon in the mission language. @Liahonagirl75
    • I would say go with an open HEART and mind! People are coming from all walks of life and especially if you're older or been independent for a few years prior to the mission... you're going to be with people that might be out on their own for the first time, and they're doing the best they can just like you! @queenofkooks
    • I'd say that you need to eat before you get dropped off, they don't feed you til 6 pm. I accidentally started fasting because I didn't eat lunch... Had a super emotional day and ended up with an awful headache. No bueno. @nyssahramirez
    • Right before I went into the MTC my friend took me grocery shopping and told me to get snacks. I grabbed popcorn, canned fruit, fruit snacks and granola bars- stuff that wouldn't go bad while I was there. Those snacks got me and my companion through the MTC. 9 weeks of MTC food takes it toll on you!! @withkrstinamanda
    • The thought that Sunday is golden! That first night (Wednesday) can be so hard with missing family and overwhelming with what is ahead but do your best to make it to Sunday and it gets better! I remember the first couple of days I just had to tell myself 'Sunday is golden...Sunday is golden' when it was hard. It's so beautiful to hear the familiar sacrament prayer and partake of the sacrament for the first time as a missionary with your purpose secured strongly in your mind @Mackenziemcomber
    • Someone gave me a ton of dollar bills to take to the MTC so I could get snacks, etc. out of the vending machines at the end of the halls. That saved me!!! There were many times I'd buy microwave pizzas or burritos for a late-night snack @joslynsue
    • I wish I had known how many notebooks and pens I would go through! I brought like one super mini note book and I needed WAY more because I wanted to write down everything! I'm so glad I did write down so much because the MTC is so spiritual! And soak in the closeness you feel with the missionaries there! It's such a unique feeling! @cass_nichole_hood
    • While you should work hard, don't take yourself too seriously. Don't stress. Be obedient and do your best and eventually you will learn the language. Enjoy all the amazing firesides and time just spent studying. Have a positive attitude. Have fun. I was surprised to find that I loved the MTC and made some amazing friend there. @melonaid
    • Honestly, I think everyone expects to work hard and to be spiritual (I mean, it's the MTC, right???), but I think what I wish I had worked harder on was relationships. With the other sisters and companion, I got along with everyone just fine, but you don't realize how special those people will be to you until much, much later and how much you will need those people and their special talents and spirits as you go through that experience. @allbrightthings3