Black Mormon students take to TikTok to bring about change at Brigham Young University

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Photo: TikTok/Black Threats

At Brigham Young University, black students make up less than one percent of the 30,000 undergraduate students on campus, a fact that can leave many black students feeling isolated. But they do have a Black Student Union that has tried (but failed) to encourage greater inclusion on the school’s Utah campus.

“The fact that we have a ‘black’ table is a problem in itself,” BYU junior Kylee Shepherd said in an interview with Newsweek. “It just shows that we’re not welcome at someone else’s table. To tell the story, because we go to a parochial school, Jesus would have wanted me at his table and therefore, I should be allowed at any table.

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Black students at BYU felt their calls for representation were not being heard. So in February 2022, Shepherd, along with Nate Byrd, Rachel Weaver, Kennethia Dorse and Sebastian Stewart-Johnson launched The Black Menaces on TikTok to show the rest of the world what black student life is like on campus. The group approaches white students at BYU to ask their opinions on topics such as whether they think black people should receive reparations and whether they think white privilege exists. The account currently has over 675,000 followers and nearly 23 million likes.

Watching the videos can conjure up everything from laughter to anger, especially when you see some of the white students struggling to identify a photo of Coretta Scott King. But more than anything, you’ll likely come away shaking your head at the fact that so many of these young adults know so little about black history.

Brigham Young University was founded in 1875 by Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church, as an institution to train public school teachers. According to the school’s website, “a BYU education should spiritually strengthen, intellectually expand, and build character, leading to lifelong learning and service.” But the school and the Mormon church have had a complicated history with black people. In 1978, the church overturned a ban on black people serving in the lay priesthood that had been in place since the mid-1800s. And in 2018, black Mormons made up just 6% of the church’s 16 million members. church in the world.

The Black Menaces say their goal is to share their experiences with as many people as possible. “The Black Menaces are not affiliated with BYU, so they can’t hold back our voice,” sophomore Stewart-Johnson said. “We wanted to highlight everything we go through in a way that millions of people could see.”

“There’s a lot of prejudice and discrimination that exists here that people don’t know about,” added Nate Byrd. “And so our goal is to let people know that it exists here, and it’s something that needs to change.”

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