First Black faculty member in 14 years to give devotional

Sociology professor Ryan Gabriel will be the first Black BYU professor to give a devotional since 2007. His address will be called “Healing Racism through Jesus Christ.” (Savanna Sorenson/BYU Photo)

A Black BYU faculty member will give a campus devotional for the first time in fourteen years on April 6.

Ryan Gabriel, a professor specializing in urban sociology, will give an address titled, “Healing Racism through Jesus Christ.” He said he hopes his address can play a small role in helping people better understand Jesus Christ’s atonement and its power to unite people of different races and ethnicities in a Zion community.

“It is pointing to Christ and thus not about the individual (giving the address), but who the individual is will shape how that message comes across,” he said.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said Gabriel has a reputation as an excellent instructor. He is building a strong research program and is a member of BYU’s Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging.

“His wisdom, understanding, experience and love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ are helping every member of the BYU community work toward rooting out racism and building bridges of understanding,” she said.

Of the 1,467 faculty at BYU, six are Black, according to Gabriel. He said he believes this has a lot to do with the demographic features of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church in the United States is predominantly white, and he said obtaining a Ph.D. is also stratified by race.

“So you start having more and more conditionally small populations,” he said. “African Americans who have a Ph.D., are members of the Church and are faculty members at BYU. There just aren’t a large number of people who are of African descent who are faculty members at BYU.”

He said BYU’s recent effort to increase the diversity of forum speakers has been “absolutely fantastic,” and he hopes the university continues the trajectory so people can learn more from the experiences of others.

In the past two academic years, Black forum speakers have included literary critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr., jazz pianist Marcus Roberts (who will also receive an honorary doctorate from BYU this month), political advisor Melody Barnes and macroeconomist Dambisa Moyo.

According to Jenkins, the last time an African American faculty member gave a devotional address was Feb. 6, 2007.

Peter M. Johnson, a professor of accounting at the time, gave a talk entitled “Faith, Family, and Friendship.” He has served as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since April 6, 2019.

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