“There are good people in the world.” How Wyoming’s Black 14 mended fences with LDS church and brought Thanksgiving dinners to Denver

‘It’s like a mustard seed that a man took and put in his own garden. It grew and became a great tree, and the birds of the sky settled in its branches. “

– Luke 13: 18-19

***

Before last Tuesday, the bird had never heard of the Black 14. However, Christina Day knew the chapel on Quari Court as the back of her wing, having first approached the Aurora Salvation Army centuries ago to find daycare for her eldest son.

‘And they said,’ Of course you can bring him here for free, ‘Day recalled. And at the same time they asked me if I needed food for Thanksgiving. I said, “Well, we could use some help.” So they gave me this huge box. It had everything you needed for Thanksgiving. Everything.”

They could use some help again. Day has worn many hats on Sam’s No. 3. Server. Bartender. Host. But she cannot keep the building open to sit-down customers. She can’t magically make COVID-19 disappear.

“(Sam’s) is great, but with the pandemic it’s stopped,” said Day. “We were closed for about three months. We have collected, but … “

Not the same. Not even close.

‘I mean, it cut my money in half. It cut my income in half. And even when we get back to work, our money is only half. And our whole situation is different. “

As the holidays approach, we brace ourselves for the worst. For those whose livelihoods depend on major gatherings – sports, entertainment, dining, retail – the darkness of March and April is creeping back in revenge as coronavirus numbers skyrocket across the Front Range. It’s like 2020 can’t walk away without a final injection into the kidney.

Day is a single mother, with a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old at home. She has struggled with alcoholism in the past. When life packs a punch, Christina knows better than anyone how to roll with the blow and get up again.

“So just to see the community come together with all these gifts for those in the community who need it,” said Day, “it really makes me feel good.”

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

AURORA, CO – NOVEMBER 17: The food donation is being coordinated by John Griffin, one of 11 remaining members of the University of Wyoming’s Black 14, a group of 14 civil rights icons kicked off the soccer team in 1969 for protesting against The Mormon Church’s ban on allowing black men and women to join their priesthood, at the Salvation Army Emergency Services Center in Aurora Colorado on Tuesday. November 17, 2020. More than 50 years later, the Mormon Church and the Black 14 team up to distribute food to nearly a dozen underserved communities across the country. Griffin, now in his seventies, has lived in Denver for over 20 years and coordinated the drop with Catholic Charities. (Photo by Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post)

Last week, John Griffin had never heard of Christina Day. And yet he knows her story well. To good.

His favorite restaurant also had to close for a while. The former Wyoming Cowboy flanker and old Denverite felt 2020, just like the rest of us. He read the news reports. Last spring, he saw rows of locals in cars picking up donated food and supplies. He saw toilet paper disappear, shops close, dreams shatter and neighbors cry.

He wondered: What can I do? He called his old Cowboys teammate Mel Hamilton and rephrased the question: What can we do?

“Every day I am blessed to be here,” says Griffin, 72, a civil rights icon and one of 14 black soccer players who started the Wyoming soccer team in October 1969 for suggesting a protest against the Mormon Church.

“It is a blessing to me every day as three of my (teammates) are gone and haven’t been here for a long time. Everyone is dying in this country. Some people won’t be here tomorrow. “

Why not make the most of today? Hamilton, Griffin and seven of their teammates did their best late last month to save this calendar year when they announced a partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the same organization that had once been the cause of their silent protest – to have a food ride in nine underserved communities.

In one of life’s sweeter ironies, Hamilton, a former Wyoming lineman, has become good friends over the years with people within the LDS leadership, including former BYU quarterback Gifford Nielsen. Hamilton’s son even converted to Mormonism and married into a family of the LDS faith.

“ You have these seeds of bitterness sown (in 1969), ” said Elder Michael Jones of LDS, noting the Cowboys’ opposition to the Church’s ban on blacks in the priesthood, a position reversed in 1978. And you have these wonderful fruits that are being harvested today. “

Last week, that crop was nine truckloads of non-perishable food, each truck containing 40,000 pounds of goods delivered by the LDS to aid charities in eight states – areas as far north as Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and as far to. South. like Charleston, SC. The nine members of the Black 14’s philanthropic arm got to choose the communities to be served.

“There will be people on Monday who had no idea what to eat,” Griffin said. And if anything is spent on Tuesday and Wednesday, they know they can eat Thanksgiving. Wow, man. I’m glad I was able to do that. The Mormons are happy they were able to do that with us. “

The 18-wheeler with the Denver donation designated by Griffin for Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and other food banks arrived Tuesday. Because Catholic Charities did not have a large enough dock to store the entire donation, the sales were made at the Salvation Army’s Emergency Services Center in northern Aurora.

“There are good people in the world.” How Wyoming’s Black 14 mended fences with LDS church and brought Thanksgiving dinners to Denver

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

AURORA, CO – NOVEMBER 17: The food donation is being coordinated by John Griffin, one of 11 remaining members of the University of Wyoming’s Black 14, a group of 14 civil rights icons kicked off the soccer team in 1969 for protesting against The Mormon Church’s ban on allowing black men and women to join their priesthood, at the Salvation Army Emergency Services Center in Aurora Colorado on Tuesday. November 17, 2020. More than 50 years later, the Mormon Church and the Black 14 have teamed up to distribute food to nearly a dozen underserved communities across the country. Griffin, now in his seventies, has lived in Denver for over 20 years and coordinated the drop with Catholic Charities. (Photo by Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post)

A small ceremony started when pallets of boxes were unloaded, each decorated with a white sticker that read:

University of Wyoming / BLACK 14 / Spirit, Body, and Soul Initiative / Donation in partnership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“To me this is one of those snapshots in history,” said Griffin. “Fifty-one years ago this wouldn’t have happened.”

Griffin is a hugger by nature. He fought the tears more than a few times, pumping fists and touching elbows as he thanked the crowds who made the donation possible.

But the moment the ex-Cowboy knocked for the biggest loop was when the trucker who delivered the goods made a point to tell Griffin how the journey had motivated him to investigate the legend of the Black 14 all those years ago. . The black bracelets. Lloyd Eaton, the coach who had turned his back on him. Avoid it. The Long Walk to Salvation.

“He told me that right on the Utah-Wyoming border, at the truck stop, they need to check the trucks that cross state lines,” Griffin said. “I assume the person was a highway patrol or state patrol. He had said to (the driver): “We are getting more trucks with the same white stickers on the road, what is this?” And he explained it to this person. And the person says, “Oh my god.”

“This truck driver is paid to transport loads across the country. I don’t know if he does this for every load. But he knew everything on the Black 14. “

***

Before Thanksgiving, Christina Day knew next to nothing about the Black 14. Until she discovered that the boxes of food that went home this fall also had a story. A journey of brotherhood going back decades.

“It reminded me of this year, with all the racial tensions and riots,” Day said with a sigh.

‘I recently drove downtown and saw that all the windows were still closed. But to hear that the same thing happened about 50 years ago, for (Griffin) to think about community 50 years later, it really hits my heart. To know that we have not been forgotten. “

Not this week. Never.

“It is very nice to know that there are good people in the world.” Day said. She paused, then smiled softly with relief. “Still.”

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