Black student’s experience with racism, Church history, finding community

Bryanna Larnyoh performs as part of the Rhythm N’ Soul Collective. The gospel choir performed at the Library Black History Month Concert Series. (Alice Gubler)

When a BYU student’s racial identity is shared with only 1% of the BYU population, it can cause a feeling of foreignness from others on campus.

Bryanna Larnyoh, a junior from Los Angeles studying family life and entrepreneurship, expressed this is the case, calling herself a “unicorn” and claiming she is often the only Black person someone may know. Despite her struggles with racism, she has been able to find a community on campus who shares her experiences and keeps her faith strong.

Larnyoh spends much of her time on campus in Afro-centric programs. She is currently a member of the Rhythm N’ Soul Collective, a performance team on campus that features songs and dances from the African diaspora, according to the team’s Instagram.

“I would like to say that I’m making history here at BYU being part of the first members of this group ever in the history of Brigham Young University,” Larnyoh said.

Larnyoh said the group is trying to show the cultures of Africa are not the same.

“One of my biggest pet peeves is when people are like, ‘Yeah, I served my mission in Africa,’ and then I’m like, ‘Africa is so big, you can mean literally anything, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe,’” Larnyoh said. “Totally different places.”

Larnyoh shared people she has talked to had no idea February was Black History Month, which frustrated her.

Larnyoh also noted Black history is not often mentioned in religious conversations. She discussed her own journey in learning about the Black history of the Church and how she wouldn’t have known about it if she didn’t actively seek it out.

“I would have had no idea about Green Flake,” Larnyoh said. “And how some of the saints came to the Utah Valley before Brigham Young did, and that effort going unrecognized by the fact that we celebrate (Pioneer Day) on the 24th instead of the 22nd when the saints actually first arrived here.”

Larnyoh expressed that, even though Black people have been oppressed, they can still have a strong faith in the gospel.

“I feel like it took a lot of emotional maturity in myself before I could finally face that history and understand it in a way that it didn’t negatively affect my faith but in fact inspired it to be stronger,” Larnyoh said.

Todd Thompson, Larnyoh’s bishop, said she is a hard worker and sensitive to others.

“I love how she embraces her diversity without becoming a victim or bitter when it would be easy to do that,” Thompson said.

Larnyoh said people often turn to her for answers regarding Black Church history since she is the only Black person in her ward, yet she does not have these answers.

“In the ward, everyone knows if I’m there or if I’m not because you can see if I’m there or if I’m not,” Larnyoh said. “I often really do feel like I need to show up for everything, I need to be the best version of myself at all times because people are always looking at me.”

Larnyoh also expressed how she feels her beauty is not genuine beauty because of the backhanded compliments she has received.

“A lot of people will be shocked at my appearance which is weird in a lot of ways because, like, ‘Do you expect me not to be cute?’” Larnyoh said. “I’ve actually gotten that compliment, ‘You’re so pretty for a Black girl,’ from a man that I was on a date with.”

In order to spread awareness and to address racism at BYU, Larnyoh said BYU students must have a desire to know about racism and be willing to open themselves to learning about others’ experiences.

“When I bring up the topic of racism to people who are not people of color, they bring up the point that, ‘Hey, that’s not us. That’s our ancestors,’ Larnyoh said. “And I’m like, ‘Sure, but what are you doing to prove that you are different than your ancestors?’”

Larnyoh expressed she often feels the need to tell people that some things they say may hurt and offend other Black students.

“That burden of always having to be the one to step up and educate, it’s really exhausting,” Larnyoh said.

Larnyoh began to feel like she didn’t belong at BYU during her second semester. However, a year later, Larnyoh found a community of friends who have had similar experiences to hers through the “Perspectives” event in 2023, organized by BYU Multicultural Student Services.

Larnyoh also found community through Rhythm N’ Soul Collective and said this group is what is keeping her here at BYU. More information about Rhythm N’ Soul Collective’s future performances can be found on their Instagram.

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