By Rachel Olsen
October 19 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Genesis Group, a support group for black members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Darius A. Gray, president of Genesis Group, was one of three black converts who worried about what could be done to retain black members.
Gray approached President Joseph F. Smith with the problem. President Smith then called three junior apostles, President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson and President Boyd K. Packer, to start the group in 1971. Gray and the two other men were asked to choose a name.
“We picked Genesis–a beginning–because we saw it as a beginning,” Gray said.
Gray said the group is an official church unit and serves as a support to black members. Meeting on the first Sunday of each month, they conduct meetings of talks, song and testimony.
“It is not a gripe session, but supporting,” said Margaret Young, an associate professor of English at BYU and author of “Standing on the Promises,” a series of books about black LDS pioneers. “Most important, the Genesis Group meetings are not a substitute to other meetings, like Sacrament meeting.”
Young said Genesis Group meets here in Utah, but newsletters are sent all over the United States supporting members and mission presidents.
“Genesis is not all black; everyone is welcome,” Young said.
Gray said Genesis exists as a safety net and a comfort for people.
“African-Americans join the church and they can feel isolated and alone,” Gray said. “There”s not too much black culture in the church. Genesis lets you know you”re not alone in the gospel.”
Jerri Harwell, an African-American, converted to the church in Michigan where only a few black members resided.
“I”m glad for Genesis. It really helped to go and see other black faces,” Harwell said.
One way Genesis will celebrate its 30 years of support is with a play written by Young. “I am Jane” is about Jane Manning James, a black Latter-day Saint pioneer.
The play will be performed Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Friday at 4:00 and 7:30 p.m. at 540 E 7200 South in Midvale. Young said the play helps educate people about pioneer history, and dispels folklore that still plagues the church.
Gray said Genesis not only educates people, but it fulfills its main purpose: retaining and reactivating black members. Genesis has been growing rapidly in the last four years.
Although Gray does not know how long Genesis will exist, he hopes that some day there will not be a need for Genesis.
“I look forward to the day when there is no Genesis Group,” Gray said. “I look forward to the day when there are enough ethnicities in the church. When we can all regard each others cultures highly enough that we can respect one another and act as a support to each other.”