‘The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls’– documentary premiere signifies a “journey of fellowship”

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“The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls” documentary premiered on Sept. 23 in the Varsity Theater. The Black 14 have partnered with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to distribute resources to disadvantaged communities. (Designed by the Daily Universe)

“The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls” premiered on Sept. 23 in the Varsity Theater, followed by a Q&A panel with two Black 14 members. 

Black 14 members Mel Hamilton and John Griffin attended as guests at the event, along with Kevin Carman, Provost and Executive Vice President of the University of Wyoming.

Guests from BYU included President Kevin J Worthen; Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy; Area Seventy Blaine R. Maxfield, managing director for Welfare and Self-Reliance services for the Church; Carl Hernandez, BYU Vice President for Belonging and Shane Reece, BYU Academic Vice President. 

BYU premiered “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls” documentary on Sept. 23. The film premiered the night before the BYU vs. Wyoming football game. (Kaylyn Wolf)

The documentary, filmed and produced by students and faculty in the BYU journalism program, follows the story of the University of Wyoming’s Black 14: a group of fourteen football players who requested to wear black armbands at an upcoming game with BYU in 1969.

The armbands were intended to protest both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ racial policies and racist behavior they experienced from BYU’s team. The players were kicked off the team after asking permission from their coach.

Over 50 years later, the Black 14 has reconciled with the Church and partnered with them to distribute resources to people in need. Their mission has led them to provide more than 800,000 pounds of food to disadvantaged communities across America. 

The film premiered the night before 2022’s Wyoming vs. BYU football game, where the Black 14 organization will host a kiosk.

After the screening, Griffin and Hamilton sat for a Q&A panel discussion, along with Zion Smiley, Executive Director of Black 14 Philanthropy. 

During the panel discussion, Griffin said that the most important thing for young people to take away from the documentary is not to let any incident define them for the rest of their lives. 

“The reason why we came out on the other side of things was we refused to allow that coach to define what we were going to do in the following years,” Griffin said.

Hamilton said that having worked as an educator, he has seen that students outside of BYU view those attending the university as “privileged.” He presented a mission for BYU students to take on to improve their community. 

“Just get one child that’s poor, and bring them under your fold, nurture them, help them in their classwork,” Hamilton said. “Show those kids that I taught, that you are not as elitist as they think you are.”

Smiley said that in working with the Black 14 organization, he has learned that keeping the Black 14 legacy alive is about making contributions through service efforts.

“That’s what I want to do to help continue the Black 14 legacy,” Smiley said. “It’s not just about raising the money, but it’s about really giving charitable contributions and helping communities in any way that we see fit.”

Kevin Carman, Provost and Executive Vice President of the University of Wyoming, attended as a guest from Wyoming for the premiere. He said he knows Griffin personally, and gets “very emotional” when he thinks about the Black 14’s story.

He said that it was “wonderful” to see both the University of Wyoming and BYU step up to own their part in the racism that took place, each in their own ways. 

“It’s good to see everybody kind of owning the history and saying, ‘listen, move forward,’” Carman said.

Carl Hernandez, BYU’s Vice President for Belonging, said that the message of reconciliation was the part of the film that inspired him the most. 

“How important it is for us to do as the Savior, such as he commanded us, right?” Hernandez said. “To go up to that brother or sister and reconcile yourself; before you can really come unto him, that’s a really important part of our being able to become more like Christ.”

President Worthen was also present at the event to honor the Black 14. He said that by the end of the documentary, he could sense that everyone sitting around him could feel the “power of love” that the story conveyed. 

“Like Mel said, ‘we’re going to teach the world how to love.’ There is a light of Christ in people, and just helping bring that out is a very powerful thing,” Worthen said. 

According to Nielsen, who coordinated the food distribution project with the Black 14, the film exemplifies the “miraculous power of the savior.” He said he could see the Lord’s involvement from beginning to end. 

“You can just see the Lord’s hand in directing the work of those people who are really trying to make a difference in lives,” Nielsen said. “Really giving hope to what some people would call the hopeless, and then trying to teach them self-reliance principles to get them on their feet.” 

Griffin expressed a similar sentiment; he said that from his perspective, God had brought them together – everything that they have done, down to their presence in BYU’s Varsity Theater, was “Godly work.” 

“It’s been one heck of a journey,” Griffin said. “It’s been a journey of fellowship, it’s been a journey of recognition, and it’s been a journey of something that’s going to go and be even more special than we thought it would before.”

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