Two Members of the Black 14 Visit Church Headquarters, Are Honored at BYU
The Church of Jesus Christ has given nearly 1 million pounds of food to the Black 14 Philanthropy. More is on the way in November.
The former University of Wyoming (UW) athletes were two of the school’s 14 Black players dismissed from the group in 1969 prior to a game against Brigham Young University (BYU). When they asked their coach if they could protest a policy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that prevented Black men from priesthood ordination, he kicked them off the team. (The Church’s policy was changed in 1978 and added to the faith’s scriptural canon.)
These athletes at UW paid a high price for their request. Griffin said eight of the 14 (himself included) were likely headed for the National Football League. Only two made it — and Griffin said those two lost out on money because of the stigma attached to the group.
Fifty-three years later, Griffin and Hamilton are focused on helping their fellow man. They and the nine other surviving members of the Black 14 started the Black 14 Philanthropy in 2019. They educate, feed and serve those in need.
“It makes me happy that we didn’t let that incident define us for the rest of our lives,” Griffin said on Friday during a visit to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. “It’s not about the tragedy. It’s about the philanthropy. It’s what we do now that’s so important. And I think about this every day. What more can I do?”
Some of their important work is done in collaboration with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The relationship began a few years ago with a conversation between Hamilton and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy (a BYU football player in the 1970s).
Since November 2020, the Church of Jesus Christ has donated some 1 million pounds of food to the Black 14 Philanthropy. Food has gone to Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming.
Another shipment of 80,000 pounds of food will be delivered to these locations this November.
In addition to their visit to Church Headquarters (which included a tour of the 13-acre Bishops’ Central Storehouse and a lunch in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building), Griffin and Hamilton spent Friday and Saturday at BYU. Friday night they took part in a Q&A after the premiere of a student-produced documentary called “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls.” And Saturday night, prior to the BYU vs. UW football game, the duo was honored for their philanthropic endeavors before ceremonially lighting the large Y on the mountain above the football stadium in Provo.
“This [moment] is an extraordinary snapshot in time for entities that were miles apart and now there’s nothing between us but good,” Griffin said. “That’s what is important to me. … We have more time behind us than we have left in front of us. We’re trying to do the best we can for the time we have remaining, whatever that is. And that’s why we’re in this relationship together [with the Church].”
Cathedral Home for Children, a youth residential treatment center in Laramie, Wyoming, is one of the beneficiaries of this collaboration. Julius Stinson, a Cottage Coordinator at the Cathedral Home, was present, along with his wife and children, at this weekend’s events.
“It starts with [the Black 14 Philanthropy] and their connection [with the Church], and then it trickles down to us, and we get to take that and give it to our families in need,” said Stinson, a former UW football player (2005–2007). “We have our cottages that need food and supplies. We have a community of families that are in need. We get to give them food and anything else they need.”
At the end of Friday’s lunch, Elder Randall K. Bennett of the Church’s North America Central Area Presidency praised the Black 14 for their example of selflessness and hope.
“John and Mel and the others aren’t self-focused,” said Elder Bennett, whose service area includes Wyoming and John’s home state of Colorado. “You’re like the Savior would be. It’s about others. It’s an outward focus. Who do we help? Who do we bless? We know we have the same Father. We’re part of the same family. We’re brothers. We’re just here to help one another.
“You’re just remarkable examples to us — examples that we need to follow in terms of optimism, forgiveness and focusing on the future, not the past. Thank you,” added Elder Bennett.
“Thank you for bringing us in to your village,” Griffin said. “You know the old adage: It takes a village. Well, that’s what we’re doing.”