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Dear Diary: We’re black Mormon women and we have lots to say

Black, female authors bring clarity and humor to issues that pop up in the LDS Church.

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Now they’ve moved into the book world, with a title playing off a Tyler Perry film, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," and which was published by Ensign Peak, a branch of the LDS Church’s Deseret Book.

The book is part memoir, part Ebonics lesson, part advice column, part sermon.

At a glance

Excerpts from their book

» “When Rosa Parks sat down, she was actually standing up. Because on Dec. 1, 1955, when that bus driver told her to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus, she had a choice. You see, long before that moment, Ms. Parks had decided it was wrong for blacks to be treated unequally. ... God has equipped us with all the tools to live the happiest lives possible, but he doesn’t force us to put them to use, and thankfully he doesn’t expect us to be perfect. In fact, Jesus has made it possible for us to get back up every time we fall, and you can’t tell us it doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to stand knowing God’s got your back.”

» Learning to pray is one thing, but learning to be a prayer warrior was a whole ’nother thing! I don’t know if at a certain age faithful people just get a Ph.D. in prayer, but my mama and aunts (all my mama’s friends included) got to a place in their relationship with God that they were no longer just faithful Christians praying. Guess they skipped getting their master’s, or maybe they were in the master’s program by the time I arrived on the scene.”

» “[My mama] taught me that people can either breathe life into you or suck life out of you and the blessings that God intends for you. Let me tell you this right now, my mama didn’t mind letting folks know that if they had negative breath, they couldn’t come to her house breathing all the negativity on her blessings! According to my mama, negativity is extremely contagious and very dangerous.”

» “It’s a good thing that while my mama was teaching me how to pray, she was also teaching me that even men of God can get it wrong sometimes.”

Source: “Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord’s Lesson in Everyday Life”

‘I Am Jane’ performances

“I Am Jane,” a play about Jane Manning James, will be performed Sunday, June 15, at Weber State University for Juneteenth weekend and Wednesday, June 25, at Zions Mercantile Co. at 4801 N. University Ave. No. 350 in Provo. The latter performance will feature vignettes about James with Joseph Smith to mark the 170th anniversary of the Mormon founder’s murder.

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There are stories about shoplifting, telling lies to a teacher, being the designated driver, accepting gifts, defending the church, and not tattling on a spouse. And then there’s the one about seeing your mama homeless.

Through it all, black Mormon mothers and grandmothers rock.

And are rocks.

Prayer warriors and "Modeas" • Historically, black women have had to be strong to hold together their families in the midst of slavery. A black family was mere property, which could be torn apart in an instant. If you removed a woman from a home or village, you would disrupt the whole society.

They developed survival skills and a spiritual strength that has been passed down through the centuries.

Each of the authors was reared by a determined mother or grandmother, whose word was final and whose faith was undeniable.

"Knowing that my mama was a prayer warrior was a blessing to me," Sister Beehive, aka Smith, writes. "When I got married and moved out of my parents’ home, I knew that no matter what, whether I needed it or not, my husband and I were getting prayed for that day. ... She prayed like she knew he was listening, and she waited, expected him to answer her."

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The authors also found a "Modea" (a Mormon version of Perry’s Madea), a wiser, older black woman, who is not their mother.

Her name: Catherine Stokes, a former public-health professional who joined the LDS Church in Chicago in 1979 and now lives in Utah.

Stokes praises the book’s authentic voice and wit, even as she dishes out words of wisdom.

"You cannot come from a heritage that includes slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and priesthood bans without knowing God," Stokes says. "The more successful people have an intense sense of humor, which is a gift."

But Stokes also laments how things might have been if the LDS ban had ended earlier.

"If blacks had had full fellowship in the church in 1936, the year I was born," she says, "where would our families be today?"

During a 2002 trip to Fiji, Stokes was asked to speak at an LDS seminary graduation. The stake president (who oversees a group of Mormon congregations) told her that his father had been an LDS bishop and she realized that Pacific Islanders were not restricted by the ban.

"As I looked out at the sea of beautiful faces, all faces of color, whose families had been in the church for generations," she says, "I felt joy for them."

But sadness for her African-American brothers and sisters, who had not had that opportunity.

"Think of all the burdens that might have been avoided," she says, "had they had access to the things we have access to today."

And even with the church’s December 2013 essay on "Race and the Priesthood," disavowing past statements about blacks and declaring that the policy was rooted more in period racism than revelation, many Mormons, she says, are still "giving me justifications about why the ban happened — and put it all on God."

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Trib Talk

O Authors Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes will join Jennifer Napier-Pearce on Monday at 12:15 p.m. to talk about their new book, “Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons,” and about diversity within Mormon culture.

You can join the discussion by sending questions and comments to #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+.

You can also text comments to 801-609-8059. › sltrib.com

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