News Story

Black Latter-day Saints Shaping History in Canada Today

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate Black Canadians and their contributions to Canada’s history and culture. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada marks this year’s Black History Month by shining a spotlight on three Black Latter-day Saint leaders who are making a difference in Latter-day Saint communities across the country.

Our Stories Matter

For Black History Month, Bishop Jimy Saint Louis encourages people to “search for a memory of an ancestor (or inspiring Black community member) and share it with a family member, friend, co-worker, classmate or neighbour.” Sharing stories is a powerful way to learn about Black history.

Bishop Saint Louis shared his personal history. In January 2010, while he was living in Port Au Prince, Haiti, a catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake left Saint Louis trapped in rubble when a four-story concrete building collapsed around him.

After a miraculous rescue, Saint Louis was left with serious injuries. “I lost one of my legs and spent several months in the hospital,” recounts Saint Louis. He had to move away from his family to receive proper care because of the physical damage he had sustained and to save his upper limbs. He says, “My faith in the Saviour Jesus Christ and my testimony of his glorious gospel grew during my trials.”

“The consequences of the earthquake on my life and my country made me think deeply about the future of my family,” notes Saint Louis, who immigrated to Quebec with his family in 2014.

He and his wife have retrained to access the Quebec job market and have integrated their family in the Latter-day Saint and Quebec communities. Saint Louis now serves as the bishop for a Latter-day Saint congregation in Montreal East, in addition to working as an accounting technician for a large Canadian company.

Thinking about Black History Month, Saint Louis shares his own history but also says, “This is a unique opportunity for me to delve into some great memories of my ancestors.” He will share his own memories of eating his grandfather’s sweet mangoes with his family while sitting under the starry skies in Haiti.

Combatting Racism

Rosa Jones immigrated to Canada from Dominica in 1970. She remembers, “As a teenager in a new country, … for the first time in my life, I faced the experience of racism.” At the same time, she encountered those who were friendly and supportive. She says, “I was blessed to have friends of many racial and ethnic backgrounds, who were friends for friendship’s sake, as we faced the challenges of life.”

Before retiring in 2016, Jones worked in the Toronto area as an accountant, mental health crisis counsellor and employment co-ordinator at Seneca College. She has held many leadership positions in the Relief Society organization of the Church. For nearly six years, she was the Toronto Ontario Stake Relief Society president (2008–13), having responsibility over all the local women’s organizations in the Toronto area.

In this role, Jones provided guidance to local congregations. She also helped lead women to assist with various humanitarian projects, such as organizing the production of over 200 cloth school bags that were filled with school supplies and sent to an Indian leprosy school in partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, collecting several shopping carts’ full of baby food for donation to the Salvation Army and co-ordinating donations to provide religious clothing for Latter-day Saints who lacked the means to purchase their own.

Jones states that although she continues to experience racism in one form or another, in and out of the Church, she is able “to face these encounters undaunted.” She says the experiences she had as a Relief Society president brought her “closer to understanding [the] Saviour and His love, that His grace is sufficient for each one of us — of any race.”

“Black History Month represents an opportunity to be reminded of the true history — injustices, struggles, and contributions in building the nation,” Jones remarks. “This should serve as a motivation and empowerment to the following generations to keep striving for equality, justice and social issues that Black History Month represents.”

Jones hopes that we will not limit our celebration of Black history to just the month of February each year. For her, Black History Month is a call for us to “unite in our individual commitment to bring about a home, community and world where equality is the norm, that the basic necessities of life — housing, adequate food, opportunities for learning and gainful employment — are accessible to all.”

Celebrating Black History

Clloyld Burns immigrated to Toronto from Jamaica in 1976. In 1977, he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He remembers, “I had just turned 18 years of age and [was] still adjusting to the Canadian lifestyle. Finding the Church was a godsend for me. … It felt like I had come home. I had never given my life to Jesus Christ before, so this was a new experience for me.”

Not long after, Burns decided he wanted to be a missionary. He was the first Black missionary to serve in the Canada Vancouver Mission (1983–85). Burns later served as one of the first Black Latter-day Saint bishops in Canada, overseeing the Scarborough-Bluff Ward (1993–99) and as a counsellor in the Toronto Ontario Stake Presidency (2001–13). He is currently serving as the Toronto Young Single Adult Branch president.

“I feel my greatest accomplishments, beside bringing people to our Saviour Jesus Christ as the first Black missionary of the Canada Vancouver Mission, was being the testament of breaking the stigma of the Church’s being unwelcoming to people of colour.”

Burns’ recommendation for celebrating Black History Month is simple: “One love, one heart!” He suggests that we mark the month by “working together in unity. Gather, celebrate, support and embrace each other as God does with us. And nothing like some good music and cultural food to feast on. We have a great opportunity to love and serve each other and embrace each other’s differences. We are all God’s children.”

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