Thursday, March 1, 2001

Sister Gladys' Testimony Reflects New Acceptance

by John R. Goodie Special for the
Arizona Republic March 1, 2001

I'm leaving, on a midnight plane to Mesa, leaving on a midnight plane to Mesa, woo, woo. Those were the words of the famous Gladys Knight as she left Las Vegas airport around midnight Saturday on her way to Mesa, Arizona. Yes, you heard me right.

For those of you who need a little schooling, I'm talking about Gladys Knight of Gladys Knight and the Pips, who has more gold records than most of us have dishes. Her song Midnight Train to Georgia still hits radio waves throughout America. I know many of you are wondering, wow, how did we miss her? Was she at AWA, BOB or Desert Sky Pavilion? What were the ticket prices, $25, $30? I will set your mind at ease.

Gladys Knight didn't appear in any fancy arena. And admission was free. Fashion statements didn't call for Jones of New York, Liz Claiborne, Gucci or Georgio Armani; instead shirt and tie for the men and plain Sunday best for the women. You see, Gladys Knight was on a mission call in Mesa for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She became a Mormon on Aug. 11, 1997, and was here giving a moving testimony on how she and her daughter, through her son, converted to the LDS Church.

I can hear many of you now, thinking that the LDS Church plans on using Gladys Knight as a tool to draw African-Americans to the church. Well you're right and you're wrong. Gladys went on record stating that she is blessed to be that tool to reach out to people of all races because she believes the church to be the true church.

Tool or no tool, true church or not, that's neither here nor there in this column. But the Mesa Pueblo Stake Center had more African-Americans under its roof than ever before. I, along with my wife and my mother, who flew in from Houston for the occasion, were moved many times during her testimony.

I kid you not. I consider myself a tough guy, rough around the edges. Tears were trickling from my eyes and at first I felt embarrassed. Then I didn't care as tears flowed. As a Catholic, I've been to Catholic churches on many of Sundays and have never felt the spirit or experienced the fullness of the heart that caused my emotions to overflow in front of my wife and mother.

Gladys spoke about her son, Jimmy, who led her and her daughter to the church. She noted that it wasn't until 1978 that African-American men could receive the honor of priesthood. Jimmy became a priest two years ago.

However, last year she lost Jimmy. She remembers how happy Jimmy was before he died because he was able to baptize his son. She has comfort because she knows she'll see her son again.

Sister Gladys Knight brought many people together on Sunday, and for many it was the first time they've ever set foot in a Mormon church. She sang four beautiful songs, her voice still strong and captivating as ever.

I would like to speak for my family, myself and all the visitors who felt genuinely welcomed and loved and who felt the spirit that was alive at the Pueblo Stake Center for "An Evening with Gladys Night and Family."

Some things will never be forgotten. Thank you.

John R. Goodie is head of security at Mesa High School and the 1998 recipient of the National Education Association's Human and Civil Rights Award. The views expressed are those of the author.