“A Bit of Harlem at BYU” by Sally Atkinson is a BYU Magazine story about Lakia Holmes, a girl from Harlem who ran into the LDS missionaries there. She ended up being part of an LDS group in Harlem with apartments in a building they called “Harleman Halls” – the Harlem answer to Helaman Halls housing at BYU. (Articles on both topics are at the same link, with the “Bit of Harlem” story being near the end of the page.)
What impressed me about Lakia’s story is how she overcame her challenging start to life.
Growing up in Harlem hadn’t been an easy life for Holmes. Her mother was addicted to crack, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time, and her father left soon after Holmes was born. She bounced around foster homes and struggled in school. “I spent more time on the street than I did at school,” she says. But by the time she met the missionaries, Holmes had finished her GED and was taking college courses in the Bronx.
I was also impressed with how the other LDS folks reached out to Lakia:
Soon after joining the Church, Holmes moved from her grandmother’s apartment to Harleman Halls–only a few blocks away but a foreign environment nonetheless. Since seven of the building’s apartments were then home to Latter-day Saints, Holmes had an immediate support network. Her Relief Society president lived two flights up. Her home teachers were just steps away.
Still, Holmes worried she might not have much in common with her white Mormon neighbors. Her attitude changed after she and a roommate cooked up a Southern feast, showcasing Holmes’ roots, and invited people from the stake. “We had all the fixin’s–pigs’ feet, collard greens,” she says. People were hesitant about the pigs’ feet until a friend who had loved them on his mission devoured a plate full. “I’d never seen someone who wasn’t black be so happy to have pigs’ feet,” Holmes says. “It was cool to see people trying something they’d never even seen before and getting to know a part of my life and culture.”
Being surrounded by so many returned missionaries and BYU grads, Holmes soon began to desire those same experiences for herself. Six months after moving into the building, she was on her very first airplane flight, headed to BYU for school. A year later she was serving a mission in Atlanta.
Wow, this woman impresses me. I love seeing this kind of drive, overcoming a lot of barriers to move forward with her education, then having the faith to not only join the Church but also to go on a mission.
I’d like some tips on eating pigs feet. I’m an experienced collard greens eater, but pigs feet I’ve shied away from so far. But it’s cool that the willingness of others to try that made a difference. Prospective missionaries, take this advice: learn now to eat and enjoy foods way outside your comfort zone.
Thanks to Sally Atkinson for a great article about a great Latter-day Saint. Lakia is now at BYU and is Relief Society President in her singles ward. Way to go!