The Black 14 of Wyoming

July 15, 2013
Mel Hamilton, Margaret Young, Darius Gray

Mel Hamilton, Margaret Young, Darius Gray

Margaret Young organized a special meeting at BYU on Saturday night.  She invited Mel Hamilton to discuss his experiences as part of the Black 14 protest against BYU in 1969.  Mel grew up Catholic in North and South Carolina.  In 1965, he was recruited to be part of the University of Wyoming football team.  Arriving in Laramie, he said there were only 6 blacks on the entire campus of the University of Wyoming, and it was a bit of a culture shock for him.

Following his arrival in Laramie, his football coach did not like it when black players dated white women.  With just 6 blacks on campus (and most on the football team), this essentially meant that he was to date nobody.  He noticed that while walking on campus, one woman crossed the street every day as he was walking to class.  After about a week of this, he decided to cross the street when she did and talked to her.  She had never seen a black person in her life.  He invited her to have a cup of coffee together to clear the air, and she became a good friend.  His second year in Wyoming, he asked a white woman to marry him.  The athletic director felt there was nothing wrong, but his football coach torpedoed efforts for his to get married student housing.  Before the wedding, his fiance’s parents died while crossing a river in Cody, Wyoming on horseback.  This put their relationship on hold, and Mel decided to join the military in 1967, leaving the University of Wyoming.  He spent one year in Turkey working in radio teletype communication.

Two years later, his football coach wrote him and asked him to return to the football team.  Because his mother wanted him to get an education, Mel decided to return.  As they prepared to play BYU in 1969, 14 black members of the football team learned that the LDS Church didn’t allow blacks to become priests.  They decided to wear black armbands in protest of the policy.  On a very horrible day in those bleachers in coaches area, the football coach took us in and said, ‘Gentlemen, you are no longer a Cowboy football player.’  Somebody tried to say something—but coach made up his mind–they were no longer on team the team.  The coach went on a tirade of a racist nature.  If a woman doing her workout in the area below wouldn’t  have substantiated the tirade, nobody would have believed it.  All 14 players were kicked off the football team. They were undefeated going into the BYU game, and were probably headed to the Sugar Bowl.

Mel said that the Black 14 was his rite of passage.  Prior to that event, he considered himself as a very shy altar boy who would not think of ever not following an order from a superior.  But at Wyoming, he said ‘I will wear black armband, I will marry this girl.’  As he looks back, those two negative responses to authority are probably only two he made in his life.  He now tells of this incident to high school students.  This case is taught in every junior high school in Wyoming, and is taught at the University of New Mexico law school, University of Wyoming law school, University of Arizona, and many others.   Mel is often asked

Would I do it again?  That’s always a stupid question.  If the situation was the same, obviously yes.  Do I wish it was different?  Yes.  Do I wish there was transition period in Laramie, for people of different lifestyle?  Yes.

He said there is a cultural blindness.  People can see differences, but don’t know how to react.  Basically, the Black 14 happened because of ignorance in how we should treat fellow human beings.  Mel definitely believes that he helped change the policy of the LDS Church, and he thinks he had something to do with that revelation.  ‘You won’t convince me I didn’t.  Whether it was divine intervention on my part, I had something to do with revelation.’

Wyoming is set to play a football game in Arizona.  Coaches at Wyoming noted that Arizona doesn’t have a MLK holiday yet.  Now coaches are asking players what they want to do.  The team has chosen to go and wear MLK badges.  ‘What a novel idea?’ Mel said.  ‘What is the difference between that and armband?’  This is the legacy of the Black 14.

Black14Now there is a little statue in the Student Union, and a lot of people are upset that the statue is not larger.  Mel responds, ‘Man you’re in Wyoming.  Think where you are.  I’ll take anything I can get.’  The ignorance can’t continue.

Mel said, ‘Your religion is yours, mine is mine.  They say you are a cult.  Who am I to say?  A lot of people thought Catholics were a cult.  I do not make judgment on any religion.  I took a stand against a policy, and nothing else.  If Catholics had a similar policy, I would take offense to that.’

He had no idea that he was helping his future family.  His son Malik was not born yet, but married a Mormon girl.  That’s the irony of the situation–he was fighting for his son.  There are things that are encouraging.  Four years ago, the LDS Institute in Laramie volunteered to make black armbands for 40th anniversary of the Black 14 protest.  Darius Gray was very happy to see the change for the Institute.

Because of the controversy in 1969, black students at Wyoming felt that there were no black Mormons.  Darius Gray, employed at KSL, was asked to travel to Wyoming to smooth over feelings and provide evidence that black men did exist in the Mormon Church.  Darius had very mixed feelings as he dealt with the situation.  He noted he is a proud Mormon, and a proud Black man.

In the question and answer session, someone asked Darius how he dealt with living through the ban.  Darius was baptized December 26, 1964.  On Christmas night, he had his baptismal interview.  The missionaries asked if he had given up smoking, drinking, and swearing.  Did he accept Jesus Christ as his savior?  Did Darius have any questions?

Yes he did.  Darius noted that the Book of Mormon peoples, the Lamanites have dark skin and were out of favor with God.  ‘How does that relate to me?’  It was at this point he learned that he would not hold the priesthood–the night before.  At this point Darius tuned out and wasn’t listening to their explanation.  He thought these were two of the biggest bigots on God’s green earth, and they claimed to be representatives of Jesus Christ.  He left the meeting thinking that there is “No way in hell I’ll be baptized tomorrow”, but he didn’t let them know.  He went home.  His mom had previously warned him that Mormons were racist.  He went to his room, and got ready for bed.  Because his Colorado Springs room was cold, he said his prayers in bed.

He had a sliding window in his room.  He said his prayer and closed the window, troubled but it all.  He opened the window again and uttered a 2nd prayer.  Following this prayer, he received a personal revelation.  He heard the voice of divinity.  It said, “this is the restored gospel, and you are to join.”  There was no mention of priesthood restriction.  This is the restored gospel.  You are to join.  So on Dec 26, he went to chapel and was baptized with no member of his family in attendance.

“If you were to hear voice of divinity, and were clear about the source, this is not me imagining a voice.  It’s awfully hard to deny.  I was baptized Saturday, and went to church.  It gave me the strength to endure.”

In response to a question about race relations, Darius described the events of the day.  This was 1969, the year after Martin Luther King was assassinated, and Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.  Cities were on fire.  There were tremendous racial tensions.  We are better in some ways, but not as good as we can be.  There has been some regression since President Obama was elected.  There is more overt racism than seen in decades prior.  In some ways, we are back to early the 50s and 60s.  Whatever your politics, we should respect the office of the president.  This is not happening.  ‘There are issues that I support the President on, and there are issues I disagree with him on.  It is the same with President Bush.  I disagreed with respect.  Racism has reared its ugly head.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Mel was the fact that he highlighted race problems not only in the LDS Church, but in other places like Wyoming and Arizona.  With the George Zimmerman verdict this weekend, we can see race problems in Florida as well, though I am greatly encouraged that Floridians are not responding violently as happened in Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict.  What are your thoughts?

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27 Responses to The Black 14 of Wyoming

  1. jared on July 15, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    Racism is an ugly part of our culture. I’ve lived long enough to observe it up close, particularity white racism when I lived in Alabama and Mississippi in the 60’s. I also lived in Los Angeles, California in the 60’s and experienced the Watts riots.

    Nowadays, people are talking about Black racism:”Thirty-seven percent (37%) of American Adults think most black Americans are racist, according to a new Rasmussen Reports”

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  2. Brian on July 15, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    I saw this posted on a friend’s FB page (posted by one of her friends), “The kid was just doing his civic duty, protecting the innocent. The other kid was doing his cultures norm.”

    Racism against blacks is still alive, sad to say.

    Great post, MH. I have always wondered if Darius Gray has felt used as the token black Mormon in his earlier days. Nice to see how devoted he is to his faith.

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  3. Will on July 15, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    “Racism against blacks is still alive.”

    Racism against whites is still alive. Racism against Hispanics is still alive. Racism against Asians is still alive.

    And, this is life. There is not a widespread problem. We have a black president for heaven’s sake.

    “With the George Zimmerman verdict this weekend, we can see race problems in Florida as well”’

    Baloney.

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  4. Margaret Blair Young on July 15, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Darius mentioned that since President Obama’s election, he has seen a resurgence of racism such as he hasn’t seen in forty years. I spoke with a black police officer in Florida, a dear friend, just after the Zimmerman verdict. I already knew about much of what he and other blacks in the area had experienced. He could hardly talk about it. Baloney? Nope. You just live in a place or a mindset where you aren’t seeing it.

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  5. Mormon Heretic on July 15, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    Margaret, good to “see” you! Will, I want to mention that Margaret teaches at BYU, and said that just last week, a black student told her that white students will cross the street to avoid them (just as happened to Mel in Wyoming 40 years ago.) Sure, it’s not the kind of racism that gets a young black man killed in Florida, but it is still the subtle kind of racism that unfortunately happens at BYU and many other campuses across America.

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  6. alice on July 15, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    “ ‘With the George Zimmerman verdict this weekend, we can see race problems in Florida as wel’

    Baloney.”

    I wonder if you’ve ever lived in FL, Will.

    I have. When my daughter was in high school in Winter Park just north of Orlando, a KKK rally was staged in the vicinity of her school. They marched past the school in their hooded robes in the full light of day in 1996.

    Fortunately, we were able to leave shortly thereafter. I’d NEVER go back to FL.

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  7. Jared on July 15, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    Margaret-

    I would like more details about your comment. I don’t have much contact with blacks. All that I know I learn from reading the internet.

    What I read is that there is much more black on white crime than the other way around. The latest being a black man beating a white woman senseless in front of her children as he burglarized her home. I see very few videos or news reports showing this happening to blacks at the hands of whites.

    Could you help me understand if I am misunderstanding what is really happening?

    I just did a brief search for crime stats. This is what I found:

    “Blacks are 39 times more likely to commit a violent crime against whites then vice versa, and 136 times more likely to commit a robbery.”

    http://www.examiner.com/article/federal-statistics-of-black-on-white-violence-with-links-and-mathematical-extrapolation-formulas

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  8. Brian on July 15, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

    It is useless to throw around googled stats to prove anything. Among other things, my link talks about 14 million whites use drugs compared to 2.6 million blacks, yet blacks are jailed at a rate of six times that of whites.

    What would be your ideas, Jared, on your crime statistics? I have always felt economics drive so much crime.

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  9. Jared on July 15, 2013 at 7:04 PM

    Brian-

    What I’ve written is in the form of a question for Margaret. I’m interested in knowing more about her comment where she wrote:

    “I spoke with a black police officer in Florida, a dear friend, just after the Zimmerman verdict. I already knew about much of what he and other blacks in the area had experienced. He could hardly talk about it.”

    Is she saying that blacks are being subjected to white racism?

    These are not my crime stats. I provided the source. Please reread my #7 comment.

    I’m interested in the truth about racism in modern America. The evidence seems to be pointing to a swing away from white racism and an emerging of black racism. Is this true or not, is my question.

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  10. Stephen R. Marsh on July 15, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    There are a lot of terrible things that happen. I will leave it at that, I’m too sad to say more about much.

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  11. Rigel Hawthorne on July 15, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    This was a great story, but as the opening described the context of this being a special meeting at BYU, I expected some wrap up of who the audience was at BYU, how the program was received, and if it was a part of a program that included other guests or events.

    I also lived in Arizona during the ‘no-holiday’ era. The residents of Arizona received a bum rap. There were two ballot measures on the same ballot that each would have approved a MLK holiday and they split the vote. The majority wanted a holiday, but an official paid holiday was not passed. The governor at the time did not want a holiday. So, that was a time of learning to be tagged a ‘racist’ by association with residence in a ‘racist state’.

    I am fortunate to have a close friendship with a black co-worker and her family in a town that has few black residents. Her husband once asked for my perspective on how it feels trying to raise children that keep LDS morals in a world surrounded by so many negative peer influences.

    I am also fortunate to have one black ward member, an emigrant from Ghana that joined the church. Though that social sphere is limited, it has been a great blessing for my family and for our ward.

    And I will say a prayer of thanks for Brother Hamilton’s contribution to the revelation that discontinued the ban! God Bless Him.

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  12. MH on July 15, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Rigel, I learned about the meeting via Margaret’s link on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/484437608297664/

    It was open to the public. I would estimate about 30 people showed up, so it was a rather small group. It wasn’t part of a class or anything like that. I thought it was received rather well. One question from the audience asked Mel how he felt about female ordination in either the Catholic or Mormon faiths where it is prohibited. Mel responded that he felt that both churches should embrace female ordination.

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  13. Brian on July 15, 2013 at 8:03 PM

    One randomly chosen statistic hardly represents “the evidence” about something as complicated as racism. The statistic I used seems to show racism exists in a legal system run primarily by whites. Racism shows it ugly head in many ways not just in one race’s crimes against another.

    There are innumerable statistics to choose from. You chose the one you chose. You may be as naive as you are portraying yourself when it comes to race. I know few adults who don’t have very strong feelings about race, one way or the other.

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  14. Brian on July 15, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    I live in SoCal. My last house was on a cul-de-sac with 8 homes. There were 4 black families. My next door neighbor ( black) was a part-time minister, full-time counselor at a juvenile facility. A much better man than ne. We had two black college football players live with us for over a year. From Philadelphia. While living with us, one of them lost a friend back home from a shooting. It was has third friend he lost that way. He came to California to get away from his life there. He lost his financial aid and had to return. The other now plays for Univ of Nebraska.

    I am hyper-sensitive to racism. I remember growing up with a racist dad. As a youth I read “Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness”. It made me not want to be like my dad in that respect.

    Sorry if I misjudged you Jared. Your post seemed more likely a passive aggressive question with a point to it than an innocent question.

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  15. Will on July 15, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    It is total baloney. This is not a racist country. Period. There are racists against all races, sure, but there is not a wide spread problem.

    No one has responded to Black President comment. Romney was significantly more qualifed in every regard — business experience, executive experience, education (law and business degree), civic experience and general life experience. Perhaps the most qualified candidate to ever run for office and Obama kicked his ass in almost every swing state, including Florida.

    If this country had a bias against blacks he wouldn’t have been elected and he for sure would not have been re-elected with his dismal economic record.

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  16. MH on July 15, 2013 at 11:40 PM

    Will, you are a troll.

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  17. Douglas on July 15, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    MH, thanks for relating Bro. Gray’s testimony regarding his conversion. It’s heart-warming to learn of this brother’s thirst for the truth, his humility to seek out the Lord, and his courage to act on revealed truth.

    The Wyoming coach at the time was an idiot. Loving vs Virginia had resolved that the several states had no interest in regulating marriage on the basis of race. Wherein were the “Black 14″ doing anything that reflected poorly on the University? He put his personal views ahead of his students and ought to have been dismissed.

    Assume that statistics regarding black-on-white crime are true….so what? Where is the evidence that the majority of these crimes are either racially motivated or represent the attitudes and mores of black people? Just as ludicrous to say “most” blacks are “racist”, by what commonly-accepted standard? My personal experience with those of the African persuasion suggests otherwise. But neither myself or any other poster can possibly know a statistically-significant sample of the some forty millions of blacks in America to have meaningful input. It’s just as ludicrous to assert that any white-on-black crime is racially motivated by default.

    The strongest objection that I have is the notion that the not-guilty verdict is prima facie evidence of continued racism against blacks. I have faith that the jury system usually gets it right. I would have, if I had to decide on the limited knowledge that I get by watching and reading varied news sources, reluctantly voted to acquit. The only legal travesty was the State going for murder two when it was clearly not substantiated. By not either offering a manslaughter plea before countless millions were spent or focusing the prosecution more on it, IMO, the state blew it. Shades of the Casey Anthony case. But where is the evidence of racism on the jury?

    I also object to slamming the good people of Central Florida as “racists”. I spent my formative years there (1971-1976) and while I saw racism going both ways, I also saw a lot of good people of all stripes doing their best to get along.

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  18. SilverRain on July 16, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    I’ve grown up all over the NW hemisphere, including Germany where Neo-Nazism is alive and well. I’ve had my life threatened by skinheads for walking down the street with a black friend. I’ve had my life threatened several times for being American. That is racism, raw and real. People crossing the street may or may not be racism, there is no real way to know unless you sit down and have a conversation with the people who do it. It could just as easily be fear of a lone man, or a need to get to the other side of the street. No need to take it personal.

    In my experiences in the US and Europe, I have found there is always bigotry of some kind, everywhere. If it isn’t blacks or some other skin color, it’s the Turks vs. the Germans, or west vs. east, or the urbanites vs. suburbians, or the officers vs. NCOs. One single racist person can feel like a huge deal, even though it’s just one person. I have also found that the biggest thing that encourages racism is hypersensitivity to it.

    So yes, I have strong opinions about race differences, given my experiences. It’s a load of pre-composted fertilizer. But, everybody makes fertilizer one way or another. The best thing we can do is to scorn individual acts of racism as they come up in our lives, and not label people “racists” unless they’re threatening direct harm. Anything short of verbal or physical violence can be easily educated with a little time. Nor should we build up and obsess about things we can’t possibly have all the facts about. That only genders fear and sensitivity to “otherness,” which is the basis of all racism I’ve ever encountered.

    Sure, someone does something stupid because they don’t understand people who are different from them. The last thing you need to do is get angry or obsessive about it. That’s hardly going to teach people not to be afraid.

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  19. Will on July 16, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    MH,

    @ 16 Whatever.

    The problem with this post trying to tie the Zimmerman case to racism is that the real issue is lost. The real moral of the story is twofold:

    1) When you play “COP” following a potential perpetrator, you actually might end up killing someone. And; regardless of how justified you think you are at the end of the day you will end up living with the fact you took another human being. What’s more, one day you will stand before the Savior and have to explain your actions.

    2) Walk away. There is a time to stand up for yourself; and, there is a time to walk away. If someone is following you, just walk away. It’s not worth picking a fight with someone because you never know if, or what kind of a weapon they have

    I own several guns and have no problem using them to defend my family. However, I don’t look for fights and I don’t follow someone around the neighborhood. That’s why we have the po-po..

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  20. Douglas on July 16, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    #19 – The police can respond in minutes when seconds count. If it’s a “better judged by twelve than carried by six” situation, I won’t hesitate to use deadly force to the extent necessary to save my life or those I have to protect. The key, though, is to keep oneself OUT of those situations whenever possible.

    Regardless of whatever consequence Zimmerman faces (Federal prosecution, wrongful death suit, social opprobrium), he has to live with the fact that he took a young man’s life. I wish that it had been me that young Trayvon attacked that night (though unlike Zimmerman I probably would have avoided confronting the kid in the first place), I have better confidence that I could have subdued him w/o serious injury to either of us, then put him over my knee for a little session with the “Board of Education” that he seemed in desperate need of, then hauled off to his mother for further discipline. At least in that (hopeful) scenario, young Trayvon is alive and considering the error of his ways.

    Let’s not forget that regardless of the justification (or at least lack of criminal penalty) for his death, his parents have lost their son at an untimely early age. If none of the aforementioned legal remedies prevail, I don’t know how they’ll get closure and peace with this situation, but I hope they get it.

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  21. alice on July 17, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    “he has to live with the fact that he took a young man’s life”

    Have you heard any of the interviews Zimmerman’s done before or after the trial? He expresses NO regrets of any kind for the fact that an unarmed kid is dead at his hands. No sympathies for the family. No second thought about stalking the kid after advise from the police that they’d take care of it.

    Whatever happened that night happened. But now a cold blooded, dangerous person once again is on the streets with a gun, poor judgment skills and something to prove.

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  22. Brian on July 17, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    I think all of the post-trial comments are nothing but people covering their butts. Zimmerman could face new trials, prosecutors aren’t about to admit mistakes, etc. If for no other than selfish reasons, Zimmerman would never have gotten out of the car if given a second chance. I have been surprised how many gaps the talking juror has filled in. I thought for sure it was all about reasonable doubt. This juror is saying little about that from the bits I have heard. To me it is all about missing evidence and reasonable doubt and those who are talking about racism in this case should not have gotten a guilty verdict because of that. There is plenty of prejudice in the legal system but Zimmerman shouldn’t be paying the price for that.

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  23. Jeff Spector on July 17, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Sometimes crossing the street is just about crossing the street….

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  24. Daniel Bowers on July 17, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    Dear Mel: I was TE on that BYU team in 1969. Truthfully, at the time Tommy Hudspeth, (BYU head coach) only had about ten guys that were Mormon on the whole team, we had no idea what had gone on at Wyoming-the only positive we could glean was that maybe we might have a chance against the ‘Boys in Laramie. We didn’t. The Cowboys handed us a whipping. The fans were crazy: full cans of beer rained down on us. Some drunk Cowboys lined up over the entry causeway and urinated on us going on and off the field. all in all, however. I loved playing football at Wyoming-it was the way football should be played- in below zero weather. Those were great days. In 1971-my senior year at BYU- the ‘Y’ finally beat the ‘Pokes in Laramie-the first time since my Dad had been on the 1942 BYU team!! Good for you, Mel. Good luck and God-speed, Dan Bowers

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  25. Hedgehog on July 18, 2013 at 1:55 AM

    #23, I have been known to delay crossing the street precisely because I didn’t want the person coming towards me to think I was trying to avoid them.

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  26. Jeff Spector on July 18, 2013 at 7:49 AM

    #25 – the problem with that is that one can attribute a number of things about another person’s actions that are not intended. So saying that a person crosses the street to avoid another person is nothing but speculation.

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  27. Heber13 on July 18, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    What I liked most about the OP is Gray’s experience and testimony. Despite an imperfect and unjust situation around him, he felt he knew what God wanted him to do, despite it not making sense. Mel also did what he felt was right.

    These examples are admirable. It is something for me to ponder and reflect on.

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