Leah Key-Ketter remembers the exact moment she knew Lita Little Giddins was different from the rest of the Citrus Singers in their college performing group. Key-Ketter was standing in the wings watching Giddins perform a solo.
“There was something so different and so magnetic, and it wasn’t about her. It was about being honest to the song,” she said. “I remember standing in the wings and going ‘Oh my gosh, she is so good.’”
Giddins later signed with a manager, performed for a year in Los Angeles and received an invitation to go to New York. Key-Ketter said Giddins could have gone on to do anything, but she chose to pursue what she believed God wanted her to do.
Today, Giddins is managing the BYU College of Family, Home and Social Sciences Committee for Diversity, Collaboration and Inclusion. She began the position as a half-time employee in January 2020 and became a full-time manager a few months later.
“Establishing Zion is a full-time effort,” Giddins said. “I’m just grateful.”
She oversees a committee of nine students that helps create a more welcoming “Zion community” on campus, according to the college’s personnel coordinator Carina Alleman. In addition to holding classroom panels on social issues and coordinating the committee’s art contest, Giddins has been contributing to a report that addresses the campus experience for people of color.
Giddins said the report will help people understand the love, direction, connection and healing the committee is trying to create on campus.
“She’s very different from your typical BYU employee,” Alleman said. “I think we all benefit from her different approach to things and the way she comes to problems. She wants to help as many people as possible.”
Alleman said she admires Giddins for her humility, faith, sincerity and above all else — her love. “Whenever I interact with her, she always says something like ‘I love you’ or ‘Thank you for all you do,’” she said. “It’s just so meaningful.”
Key-Ketter said Giddins has a way of making people feel welcomed and important. When she attended Giddins’s wedding, she knew nobody, but she said everybody was nice to her because of the warm and welcoming atmosphere her friend created.
Giddins said this way of loving people has come with intention, effort and divine help. “I was raised with people being unkind — you know, I’m a Black person — and people viewed me as less,” she said. “I prayed that I could develop a heart that is loving.”
She said she prays to love people and see them as children of God, and she has learned that the people she encounters might be needing an extra measure of healing. “I have to remember that when the judgment comes, it’s not about me. It’s about their healing.”
Healing was a central motif in her reflections on her former career in therapy and her current position at BYU.
She said as a new mother and first-generation college graduate, she thought she had done enough college, but prayer led her to pursue a master’s degree. She became a licensed therapist with an emphasis in expressive arts therapy.
“Being a licensed therapist is such a gift,” she said. “I can help in this healing.” She said her background in therapy is a key to building Zion and creating a place that is safe.
It comes with challenges, Giddins said. “I love the people that I work with, and I want to be a part of the healing and I want it to happen fast,” she said. “I need to trust God and trust that He is in control. This is His work, not mine.”
She said she had to take a leap of faith and trust God as a young woman when she felt the Lord wanted her to serve a mission. Things were working out in Los Angeles at the time, and her voice was the best it had ever been. It was a scary decision to go, she said.
But the Lord provided the chance for her to employ her passion by touring her mission in England, singing and performing to the people. “I never would have imagined that,” she said.
Although she is a social worker by profession, she never had to sacrifice her passion for the arts. “That’s a part of me, and it’s not separate,” she said. “The arts are a huge part of the healing processes for people.
She said as a graduate student, she incorporated all forms of the arts in her presentations, and she continued to use them as a professional therapist. She worked with adults with autism and learning disabilities at a residential facility and helped them express emotions through dance and music.
And even though she sacrificed her chance to perform in New York as a young woman, she said she still has many connections to the city. The Center for Latter-day Saint Arts in New York City invited her and her husband Kevin to work there four or five years ago. She still works for the center while based in Utah.
Giddins also said she has many friends in the city, and she and her husband go and see productions there.
“I still got to go to New York and work, just in a different capacity,” she said. “(God) provided a way to do it that was more enjoyable. I just love Heavenly Father. I love Jesus.”
She noted other ways she saw God’s hand throughout her life: the questions that led her to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the loving mentor and friends she found when she joined the Citrus Singers and the opportunity to receive her graduate degree for no cost while her husband worked for BYU.
What she is most grateful for in her life is her relationship with God and Jesus. “They know beginning to end,” she said. “They saw down the road that I would be in this position and serving in this capacity.”
Key-Ketter said Giddins has already offered so much to the people around her, and she still has so much more to offer.
It’s evident when Giddins talks that she loves the Lord and encourages others to be like the Savior, Alleman said. “If we could all show love for each other the way Lita does, we would be Zion already.”