Two unusual events complete the Black Heritage Month programs at the Washington Temple Visitors’ Center on Saturday and Sunday this weekend.
Tomorrow, at 7 p.m., the first black member to be called to be a stake president in the northeastern states, Ahmad Corbitt, will be the featured speaker. President Corbitt is also the New York Office Director of the Church Office of Public and International Affairs, which deals with the United Nations Ambassadors.
President Corbitt, who has obtained very positive publicity for the new Harlem chapel of the Church, is a lawyer who practiced criminal law and then joined his legal background with public relations, particularly dealing with corporate branding.
Other speakers tomorrow include Bernard Balibuno of Georgetown University, and Herma Hosang (who is the LDS representative on the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington). Sam Warren, popular singer who has sung before more than 4,000 audiences and who joined the Church within the past year, will sing. The theme will be “How the Gospel of Jesus Christ Changed My Life.” Bishop David Oryang is the event chair.
On Sunday evening at 7 p.m., the featured speakers are Burgess and Josie Owens. Burgess was All-Pro defensive back who played with the Super Bowl Champion Oakland Raiders. He and his wife Josie, from Trinidad, joined the Church partially through the great example of family lifestyle and values of Todd Christensen and his wife Kathleen. Todd was a running back teammate who was also All-Pro. All six children of the Burgesses are active in the Church. A businessman and a motivational speaker, he has served as a temple worker.
The theme of the talks is “Can You Be Spiritual and Succeed in the World?” The master of ceremonies will be Robert Foster, who was the first black elected to be student body president at BYU in 2002. The Burgesses will be introduced by their bishop, Alan Malan.
Exhibits feature 66 “Contemporary Pioneers” whose bios are displayed, typically with photos. One question everyone answered is “What attracted you to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” The responses are galvanizing. They reflect extraordinary spiritual sensitivity. Many had visited a variety of churches in years of searching for the genuine Church of Christ. Yet when they first heard the missionaries, or first entered the Church, or read the Book of Mormon, they knew instantly that their prayers had been answered and were baptized and remained stable members of the Church ever since.
As one lady put it: “Having felt the Spirit during my life on many occasions, I knew what the Spirit was, and recognized it each time the missionaries came to teach me.” She was baptized after turning 65 and has enjoyed doing temple work for her family members.
There are also intriguing exhibits from the lives of members. The educational levels of the members vary, but a surprising share of the new black LDS have graduate degrees, often from prestigious universities such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, Auburn, etc.
Many people who have read the bio materials of the “Contemporary Pioneers” have expressed a strong desire to learn more about the Church.
The novelty of these exhibits and programs has attracted considerable publicity including a 38 column-inch feature in the Washington Times that could leave no doubt that LDS believe in and preach Jesus Christ and His atonement, an interview with WTOP, a full-page Church News story and another one to come, several Meridian articles, filming by PBS, and filming by a Church team from Salt Lake for a segment of “World Report” to be shown between April General Conference morning and afternoon sessions both Saturday and Sunday as well as multiple times on BYU TV.
The World Report team was led by Dale Jones who was Project Manager for the new Joseph Smith movie. He wrote back of their “terrific experience”, “marvelous time” and commended the “amazing job with exhibits, memorabilia, and additional upcoming events.” Some visitors have compared the exhibits favorably with those of professional museums.
So everyone is invited to see history in the making both Saturday and Sunday evenings at 7 pm. In addition, if they can bring non-LDS friends, it will improve their image of the Church.