Editor's note: Noting the 30th anniversary of the 1978 priesthood revelation, this is part of a series of profiles on black Mormons and their families.
Upon entering Kevin and Lita Giddins' high-ceilinged home, visitors will have no question as to their priorities and values.
An open LDS hymn book rests on the piano, with a Joseph Smith book propped up on a stand nearby, and a well-read copy of the Ensign lies in a basket on the floor. A large, white poster next to the hearth shows a quote from President Thomas S. Monson written in colorful letters. The walls are adorned with pictures of the Savior, pictures of the Giddins family and a plaque inscribed with the date of their sealing in the Salt Lake Temple.
While their faith helps them blend in easily with the Orem community in which they live, their race causes them to stand out.
"If I could say anything to my brothers and sisters in the church it's this: 'Don't ignore the fact that we're black,"' Kevin said.
"Celebrate it!" his wife, Lita, chimed in.
Both Kevin and Lita are converts to the church. They believe that their mission is to break down biases and bring people to Christ. Their oldest daughter, Camlyn, 16, is confident with her identity thanks to the examples of her parents.
"We are representing our race," Camlyn said. "(It's important to) not be afraid of your skin. Don't push it on people but don't be afraid of it."
Kevin and Lita feel one of their purposes is to gather people to Christ, no matter their color of skin.
"White cannot be saved without black and black cannot be saved without white," Kevin said. "Accept my identity but don't segregate me. We feel we are part of the gathering of Israel, helping (the Saints) come together."
Kevin joined the church after President Spencer W. Kimball announced in 1978 that all worthy males were eligible to receive the priesthood. Kevin was recruited by Brigham Young University as a performer and was introduced to the LDS Church there. He began attending a ward, and because of his Christian upbringing, many people, including the bishop, thought he was a member. He was teaching Sunday school classes before members realized he had not been baptized. But his Baptist background had prepared him.
"This gospel that they were sharing with me did not take anything away but, instead, added to my understanding," Kevin wrote in a memoir published by BYU.
However, he still struggled with the concept of priesthood authority. Having grown up as a Baptist, he did not see the need for another baptism since he had been baptized by immersion by his own choice.
"I had to study it out for a month to understand what that meant," Kevin said. "If there is a person of color in the (LDS) Church, they have gone through a lot to get there."
With regard to the priesthood revelation, Kevin wrote that "for me, it became most important to know simply that 'all worthy male members of the church have been extended the priesthood.' My Father in heaven showed me, through the spirit, that the natural man cannot begin to understand the things that the spirit of God knows."
Lita also struggled in her quest for membership, but not with the priesthood revelation. She was introduced and converted to the church before the revelation on the priesthood, but baptized after. A member family fellowshipped her while she was in junior high school in Southern California, and she soon wanted to be baptized. Her mother was opposed to it, so she waited three years and was baptized when she turned 18.
"I joined the church because I knew God loved me a lot, which gave me the courage to go against my mother," Lita said. "I was going to join the church regardless of (the priesthood revelation). I was a baby just wanting to enter the gate."
While their parents have not yet joined the church, both say that they have come a long way. Initially, both sets of parents thought their children were joining "a white church that was prejudiced against blacks." Now Kevin calls his parents "dry Mormons" because of the way they talk about the church and embrace its teachings. Lita's mother always asks if she has talked to her bishop if she runs into any kind of problem.
After Kevin served a mission in San Antonio, Texas, and Lita served a mission in Leeds, England, the two met while performing together at BYU with the Young Ambassadors. Kevin asked Lita to marry him on stage at the conclusion of the production of "The Wiz."
"I accepted, not because he wanted to marry me because I was black, nor I him because he was black, but because he loved me and I loved him," Lita wrote in the same BYU publication, titled "Finding God at BYU."
Kevin said one of the reasons black members don't embrace the gospel in greater numbers is because of the traditions held in the church. He gave the example of the way church members typically fold their arms rather than interlock their hands in prayer, as black people are accustomed to doing.
"Are you willing to give up your traditions for truth?" Kevin asked. "If members would, then more black people would join the church."
After both Kevin and Lita received graduate degrees from BYU, they moved to Ohio and later to Michigan. But they always seem to find their way back to Utah. Kevin currently works as the director of diversity recruiting in BYU's Marriott School of Management. Lita performs locally, and together they run a theater workshop at the Hale Centre Theatre Orem. The bulk of their time and energy is spent on raising their five children.
The five children are unique, not because of their race, but because of their demeanor. When asked what she likes to do, their 12-year-old daughter, Grayson, responded, "Make people happy." When discussing what she has learned from her parents, she said without a hint of sarcasm in her voice "They're always right. "
Part of Lita's parenting philosophy is assisting her children in discovering their identity.
"First of all you're a child of God, and you're beautiful and intelligent and smart, and he has put you here to be his helper," Lita said, explaining what she teaches her children. "We have been given our color for a reason, and you will hear my 9-year-old say, 'I like my brown skin.' We talk about that and how it can be used."
Kevin was born in 1961 to two teenagers, who put him in foster care in New York. He was raised in the New Jersey suburbs by religious, loving parents and always wanted to give back. He had his chance while the Giddins family lived in Michigan, where he and Lita adopted two boys, Wayne, 8, and Christopher, 7. The two boys are brothers.
E-mail: [email protected]