Ronell Hugh: Abandoning Attitudes and Actions of Prejudice

Wed Feb 23 10:38:39 EST 2022
Episode 167

Ronell Hugh has done marketing for some of the most well-known companies in the US, including Adobe, Walmart, HP, and Microsoft. His professional position and personal identity—first as a child of God and second as a Black Latter-day Saint—have given him a unique perspective on President Russell M. Nelson’s October 2020 call for Church members to “lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.” On this week's episode, we talk with Ronell about how we can each respond to the prophet's call and why he believes we shouldn't give up in our efforts to promote respect for all of God’s children.

This is about eternal Heavenly Father correctness, not worldly political correctness.
Ronell Hugh

Episode References:
“The Talk” ad by Proctor and Gamble:

President Nelson’s call to abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice: “Let God Prevail,” October 2020 general conference

President Oaks’ call to root out racism: “Love Your Enemies,” October 2020 general conference

Ronell on “Latter-day Saint MBA Podcast”: Ronell Hugh

Ronell speaks for LDSMBA conference:

Show Notes:
1:40- International Upbringing
9:30- The Talk
15:36- Joining the Church
22:19- Not Political Correctness
26:34- Personal Application
33:46- How the Church is Doing?
36:26- Giving Grace in the Interest of Impact
41:03- Conversations That Move Us Forward
45:49- Responding to Offense
50:00- Identity
54:17- What Does It Mean To Be All in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?


Morgan Jones 0:00

After we finish the interview you're about to hear, Ronell Hugh and I stayed on the line chatting for a bit. It was one of those times I really wished I had just kept the recorder going. He started talking to me about the city of Enoch and how the scriptures teach us that they were of one heart and one mind and dwelt in righteousness and there was no poor among them.

He then pointed out that the people in Fourth Nephi seemed like they were on the same track, we read that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God, which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there could not have been a happier people who had been created by the hand of God.

So what happened? Why weren't they taken up like the city of Enoch? Well, the scriptures say they began to be divided into classes. So the question now for us is, are we going to let that be our downfall as well?

Ronell Hugh has spent most of his career in marketing. He began working for Real Salt Lake and has since worked for HP, Adobe, Walmart and Microsoft. He's also served on advisory committees for the BYU Marriott School where he earned his MBA.

This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so honored to have Ronell Hugh on the line with me today. Ronell, welcome.

Ronell Hugh 1:28

Thank you, Morgan. Happy to be here with you.

Morgan Jones 1:30

Well, I have been looking forward to this conversation. I'm super excited. Let's get started with your upbringing. You have a bit of a untraditional upbringing in terms of growing up internationally, you grew up in Germany, is that right?

Ronell Hugh 1:45

Yeah, that's correct. So I was born in Germany. My parents met in Germany, my mom is Jamaican, and my dad's American and they met in Germany. So there's five kids in my family all four of the boys were born in Germany. And we lived in a small town actually, West of Frankfurt about 40, maybe 50 miles, and a small town called Hadenfeld.

So my childhood was very unique in this since of–I spoke German as a child growing up. I mean, I learned both English and German, but was able to develop that, I guess, talent, if you will, that language skill. But that was where it started. So grew up in Germany, and lived there until about seven or eight, and then move back to the United States.

So moved to North Carolina, so the Raleigh area. And lived there for about two or three years, and then moved to England. So I always tell people, "By the time I was 10 I lived in three different countries." Which really, in a lot of ways helped shape me and a lot of my curiosity about people, cultures, and engaging with different people. So it's a–yeah, it totally is a major factor in who I am and, you know, who I am as a person.

Morgan Jones 2:56

Yeah, how does–how would you say that it shapes that curiosity, having grown up around different–because North Carolina having grown up there, very different than England. I've never been to Germany, but I can only imagine. So how does that shape that?

Ronell Hugh 3:11

Great question. It's one of the things for me, like the town that I grew up in Germany, there's about 520 people that lived in that town. So it's really a village, right. And you become so well acquainted with all the families. My wife and I back there right before the pandemic hit in 2019 and we walked the town in like 30-40 minutes, very fast walk. Like everybody, you know, everybody still lives there that I knew.

And that was just foundational for me, just the kind of family oriented community. It helped kind of, you know, develop for me just being with people who just generally like to be around each other.

And, and then when we moved to North Carolina it was so different. Actually, I remember moving to North Carolina, the two times I moved, I was a little–I was eight years old when I moved there the first time, still lived in a small little town, outside of Raleigh in Knightdale.

And it was interesting, it–I learned a ton about that, but it was actually that experience, one of the first times that I experienced racism, for me, was living in North Carolina, like moving there and having experience.

But then England was totally different, you know, the culture of England, the people, the things that they value, all were different in each country, but I think it gave me a perspective about people, just being interested in people.

You know, I often say and use the word 'Curiosity.' How curious are we, as we think about others who aren't like us? Or who maybe are like us, I mean, there are people that we consider are like us, but they may have so many things about them that are so unique to them that are for me are inspirational, I get really inspired by people and their stories and the things that they've been able to accomplish. And so I think those three, living those three different places helped me to do that. And actually forced me to do that.

So I couldn't just sit back and just let things come to me. When you move, you know, you have to either inject yourself into cultures and communities and try to figure out what's happening and how, you know, how can you be a part of it? And that just wasn't my nature. And so I've always been one of those who like, "Okay, let me just dive in." I want to get to know people, I want to understand more than probably should, but that's kind of where I focus my energy.

Morgan Jones 5:13

Well, you and I will be good friends, because I also love hearing about people's stories. And I love–I just think everybody has a story, and if you dig deep enough, you're gonna figure out what it is. And so I am excited to hear more about yours, though, as we talk together today.

You mentioned that when you came to Raleigh, that was the first time that you had experienced racism. I'm curious, how were you treated as a person of color? What were the differences from like Germany, to Raleigh, to England?

Ronell Hugh 5:45

Yeah, starting off in Germany, it was interesting. I . . . I don't remember or recall any experiences as a child, you know, growing up, and we were the only Black family in this small town. And I remember one incident, and I remember as a child was this gentleman, or he was the father of these two girls that we were friends with. He said to me, he said, "Ronell, du bist schwarz," which is, "Ronell, you're black." And I said, "No, I'm brown."

But it wasn't even anything racist related, right? Like, it's just more of him, like just in his funny and about five years ago, six, seven years ago, actually, I went back and he saw me walking into town. And he related that story to me, like, "You remember when I told you this? And you came back," and it was so funny to talk to him about.

Morgan Jones 6:31

That's hilarious.

Ronell Hugh 6:32

But there's no–there wasn't any things that I recall my experience in Germany that really innoked in me like this . . . this–like how I have to feel different because of the color of my skin. If anything, living in the town that I did, people treated me like I was, I was German, that's how I still–when I go back they're, like, "Oh, Ronell's back. He's part of our community, he's German." And that's just kind of a key thing for me.

When I moved to North Carolina, it was, it was the first thing I remember. And I typically share this experience, I can't remember my age. But I moved there when I was about eight. So somewhere between eight and ten, I probably was about, you know, about eight or nine. I remember walking down the driveway, it was we had, you know, pebblestone driveway, and we were walking down to my mailbox.

And I saw a sticker on my mailbox, "KKK." And being new to the country, I didn't really, I had no idea what that meant, right? And so I was like, huh, why did somebody put a sticker on our mailbox? And I grabbed the mail, walked back up the driveway, and gave it to my mom. And I remember telling her that somebody put this sticker on our mailbox. And I could–and for me, it was a seeing her response, just–like as a child, you know, seeing her visible responses like sadness, anger, frustration, she didn't say anything, but I can see all of that in her face and in her body, right.

And that just kind of opened up a new world for me. And from that moment on, I think my parents, they would often share with us different things about like, what does it mean to be a Black person living in the United States? And then at 10, I moved to England. And England is so different, like England, I find it fascinating, my brother and I often would find ourselves in these unique situations where–in England you have a lot of people from India, and you have a lot of people that obviously British are from England, or from Scotland or Ireland, kind of in that community, you have others too, you have a lot of immigrants from Jamaica there, too.

But this may sound crazy, but we had–there's so many kids that would get in fights, and it was usually between, you know, British kids who were white and these Indian kids. They were always just fighting and it was this tension I often found, and I think that tension obviously still exists there in England, but it was a tension between those groups.

I never felt for me anything–and now later on my mom would share with me stories, but as a child growing up there, a teenager, I didn't feel any of that . . . that tension, right. And so we really kind of these two–these two, kind of like a sandwich, if you will.

Like it was mostly like my experiences in North Carolina at that time as a child where I had that . . . those perspective really forming for me. Then moving back, so we moved back to North Carolina at 16 and that's when you know, you start to develop as a teenager, you have to kind of be more aware and understand like, "Kay, me, I'm six foot one, I'm very athletic build, I don't want to leave the wrong impression. So I have to be very, very cognizant of that." And so I'm starting to develop, you know, how to manage myself when it comes to this topic, so.

Morgan Jones 9:29

Yeah, well, and I'm curious, I guess for me, when you said the thing about, you know, my parents started talking to us about, you know, being aware of . . . I don't remember exactly how you put it, but I guess for me, it's like, those are conversations that were never had in my home about the color of our skin. And so, I'm thinking okay, like that's something that's taking place in homes of people of color. So I wonder like for you, even as a parent, like, what do those conversations look like? What are the things that you're saying to your kids or that your parents said to you?

Ronell Hugh 10:14

Yeah, and you know, they just–it's one of the things they call, "The Talk," you can go out and find, I think Proctor and Gamble did a video on it a couple years ago, maybe two or three years ago. But it's well known in, in many spheres, especially in the Black community, this idea of a talk.

And for me, with my parents, it was, you know, first and foremost, how do we treat other people? My parents were exceptional at really making sure that we treated people with respect, with dignity. And we truly treated them like they were, you know, our brothers and sisters. And that's super important.

Because at the time in my formative years, I didn't join the church until I was 14. So this was something that was ingrained in me as a child living in Germany, and living in North Carolina. And it was such a huge part. And I think that just made it so important for me, like, how do I do that? What am I doing daily? How do I treat people in my interactions?

And then there were other things of just being aware of our surroundings, you know, being aware of like, what happens when a police officer comes? What do you do? What do you say? Where should your hands be in terms of, you know, on the steering wheel, and not like anywhere where they think that you may have a weapon of some sort?Making sure you have your driver's license and your insurance, and your vehicle registration in a place that's easily accessible, so it doesn't look like you're doing anything wrong.

You know, there's so many other topics that my parents would talk about with me just to make sure that we were safe, and it wasn't in any way shape, or form animosity towards other people, it was just like, how do you keep yourself safe? How do you keep yourself safe, so that people don't assume that you're doing something wrong? Because that was, that was kind of the environment that we–that, you know, that America–and I don't think it exists as much, but it's still there today in a lot of ways, in elements of it.

And so for me, then as a parent, you know, taking that around, you know, as I started having kids, I started to think heavily about how they can be influenced for good, just being a good child, like you had to–my wife, and I, my wife's white, and so we have these, you know, biracial kids. And, you know, initially in our marriage, my wife thought, like, well just raising them in the gospel will be all that we needed to do that we didn't have to talk about anything about race or anything of that nature.

But over time, you know, she started having her own experiences, and realized well, we have to understand culturally some of the things they may be faced with. You know, and for me, I'm just like, hey, just makes sure that, you know, with my kids–I've four kids, two boys, two girls, and my girls are phenomenal, my boys are awesome.

But they recognize that they are different, you know, we live in, we live in Utah, and they are definitely minority, even here where we live, but helping them to understand how do they–how do they present themselves? How do they talk about things? How do they communicate with people who may say things that are inappropriate or not very nice? And it happens. You know, kids will say things and making sure that they can say or respond in a . . . in a respectful way, but also making sure that they can do it to get their point across.

And for me, it was hard because I think moving–we moved back to Utah four or five years ago, and the biggest thing that we thought about for me was, what will my kids experience? Right. What will they have to deal with, because in Utah it's not very diverse.

And you know, within six months of being here, it was actually the week of Martin Luther King week. And, you know, January of 2017, my daughter comes home and I'm sitting there talking to her and asking her and my oldest son, "How's your day?" "What happened?" And my daughter tells me an experience she had at our local elementary school, where a kid came up to the playground and told me that Black people are ugly.

And she's six, right. And so luckily, my six year old, she was at the time my very feisty six year old girl, turns around, I was like, what does she do? Does she turn around to this young boy who was I think, a grade older and said to him, you know, "Don't judge me by my color, judge me by how I act."

And so to think that at six she already knows that she has to be able to respond in a certain way. And, and that became a priority for me, you know, because I think we get judged by a lot of different things. And that's one of things I hopefully have ingrained in my kids, don't judge people by anything, get to know them. Get to know what they like and dislike.

And that's okay to dislike things that you don't like, or that you like, right. It's something that we put such an emphasis on because doesn't matter who a person is, doesn't matter what their religious background is, you know, their religious affiliation or where they come from or ethnicity there, we focus so heavily on that aspect of it. And making sure that our kids understand this is what it's about. And not only that, this is what the Savior was about, this is what He did. And He put such an emphasis on that. So we really place a huge emphasis on that with our kids.

Morgan Jones 15:13

Well, I love that response from your little girl. It makes my blood boil a little bit that she even had to deal with that, but what a response, you know. I want to come back to this, but really quickly, you mentioned that you joined the Church when you were 14. How did you and your family–how did you come in contact with the Church, and what initially drew you to the gospel?

Ronell Hugh 15:40

So yeah, we had lived in England for about two years. So let me actually go back. As a child . . . as Christian Catholic. We moved to the States, you know, my dad's family, Southern Baptists, we would go to Church with them. My parents weren't really frequent Church attenders, you know. They liked the idea of us going, so even as a child in Germany, I read this really, this Bible story book. I was very well knowledged in terms of the Bible, and kind of all the stories that happen in the Bible.

Then we moved to North Carolina, go to Southern Baptist, we went to Presbyterian, went to Methodist Church, and then I have an aunt who's a Jehovah Witness. So right before we moved to England, we studied with the Jehovah Witnesses for about two years.

And then we moved to England, and then for two years, from 1990 to 1992, we didn't attend a church at all. And it was interesting, because we were living with my grandmother, my mom's mom, and through some unfortunate events, you know, we found ourselves homeless, and we lived in a homeless shelter.

And I can't remember how long it was, but my sister who was very young at the time, she could have only been probably five or six, shared with me not to long ago that I was one day, like, while we're in the shelter, like, holding her, we're both crying, apparently, we didn't understand what was–we didn't, we knew something bad had happened, and we knew that we were in this place, and we were like–but she tells me, it's like I was there, holding her and saying, you know, things are gonna work out, you know, God will take care of us.

And it was interesting because that was when–after we got out of the homeless shelter, we got put into this government housing area in England. And my dad said, "We need to find the Church. We've been without a Church in our life, we need to go find one." So he just, he went out, my mom wasn't as interested, but he went out and he started going to different churches.

I remember going to a big old cathedral with him. You know, and if you travel to England or Europe, you just, these cathedrals are just massive, right? And they're so impressive. And then one day, my dad happened upon two sister missionaries. They were walking around, obviously doing what missionaries do and then they talked with him about coming and teaching us.

And my mom was very apprehensive at first because I mean, her sister's Witnesses, so we obviously know the issue there. But they came over and it was so powerful for me in terms of, you know, I'm 13 at the time, and they're talking about things that I know, they talked about, you know, a prophet and how prophets are important. I was like, "Well, if you don't understand that, then you maybe have not ever read the Bible." Like, "I know that," and it doesn't, you know, and so that was one thing that really stood out to me.

And then the idea of really centering our focus on being a child of God, you know. I think a lot of religions, they may talk about it, but there's something that really impressed me when I heard the missionaries talk about it and really something that I felt that really resonated with me. And so that, you know, led to us this kind of interview, you know, having the missionary discussions and having the missionaries over, we actually got to know a ton of the missionaries in our area very well.

And so it was June of–June of 1993 that my family, there's–except for my sister, she was too young, she was still seven at the time–but so six of us were baptized as members of the Church. And you know, we're at different stages in our, you know, journey right now. Which is great, which I love to see. But I've loved it. For me, it's been great. And it's been such a foundation for me to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and to understand it even more and how I apply it to my life.

Morgan Jones 19:15

So I wondered, so 199, were you familiar when you joined the Church of the history of the Church as it relates to Blacks?

Ronell Hugh 19:27

No, I wasn't actually when I joined in 1993. Actually my mom and I recently had this conversation that, you know, she mentioned to me that she wished she would have shared more, probably would have done more of that type of, you know, discovery for ourselves. And I didn't know much and it wasn't you know, it wasn't till later on. It wasn't till I was about probably 18 or 19. Getting reay to serve a mission, I served in the Utah, Ogden Mission that I really started to have questions about it.

But they weren't questions in the sense of like, that drew me away from the gospel. It was more of questions like, "I don't understand." And it was, it was one of the things that actually is interesting on my mission serving in Utah, I had a lot of people that would say to me, "How can you belong to a Church that didn't allow Blacks to have the priesthood?" And that's a deep question. That's a question that takes more than just a "Let's have a five minute conversation about this."

And I remember like, at one point, and we're very, we're a very sarcastic family. And so I have to, I have to be mindful of that. Because my, my responses can sometimes be sarcastic. But I remember one time saying to somebody, "What would you do if God asked you to do something?" I probably had gotten so tired of answering the same question. So I was like, I'm gonna get–in my mind I start thinking well, I became a Church because I felt that the Lord wanted me to do this. I truly did. I thought that was what the Spirit directed me to do, personally.

And so I asked this question, and this person said to me, "Well, I would, you know, do what God tells me to do." And I was like, "Well, God asked me to join this Church, so I did." Like, I don't have all the answers about, you know, Black and the priesthood, but now as I've matured, you know, even for me, I've gone on my own discovery. And I've had to do a ton of work, because I get the questions often from people around this topic. And I, you know, I've done my work on this for me personally, over the last–since my mission, so I served in 1988. And so it's been quite some time. But at the time, no, there wasn't much deep perspective on the Church's history around Blacks and the priesthood.

Morgan Jones 21:31

Well, and I think, to your point, like, we all are learning and growing, that's something that I've thought a lot about recently is that fortunately, we worship a God of eternal progression. And I think Satan is very much like, "You need to figure everything out right now. Like, let's go, you gotta go, you gotta figure this out." And I'm grateful that our Heavenly Father allows us to, you know, explore and try to better understand, and we do have to all go on whether it's, you know, racial issues, or just like basic testimony, fundamental testimony issues, we all have to go on that personal discovery, and continue to know for ourselves that we're doing what God wants us to do.

You recently have done a lot of speaking and teaching about creating spaces of belonging. And you talked about how, one morning you woke up around 2am with these words, in your mind, "This is about eternal Heavenly Father correctness, not worldly political correctness." What do you think Ronell, that this prompting was trying to communicate to you?

Ronell Hugh 22:47

This was pivotal for me, you know, this was 2020, my wife and I had started to we were invited to do different firesides and different types of engagements. And I remember the initial one that I was brought into was from an amazing friend, and it was for more government oriented, like, island city, where I live.

And I remember just having so many experiences there that were–some are good and many are more . . . some of them are good, some are bad. And I just had this thought in mind. You can't, you can't have this type of a conversation from a political and worldly standpoint.

And so as we were preparing for firesides and this one specifically was to our old stake in Seattle, we'd been getting so many questions, right? And we're getting emails from the people who were preparing it. And so when I woke up and had this thought, I think the prompting was trying to communicate, we have to focus on how does Heavenly Father think about this, right.

This is not about–our identities aren't about the the worldly or political aspects of this, because that's what Satan wants us to focus on. When we focus on, "Well, my political views are this," and the world is telling me this about the topic of prejudice or racism, you can never come to a conclusion or figure out how do we move forward, because all you're doing is debating, and debunking on different sides of it.

It was interesting that same day that I had this impression, that morning at 10am, the organizers of the fireside had sent me over this email that was very long from a gentleman who was on one side of the political landscape, who had a very, very high passions about what we were doing was evil was wrong and all we're doing is making a mountain out of a molehill. And the email was much longer than that. That's just the kind of a shortened version of it.

And this thought kind of hit on that was like, "You're not focused on the right things. You're focused on it from a, from a political standpoint." And that doesn't really work on . . . it won't work, right? And it's hard to you know, it's hard to have this type of conversation, when you think of it only in the world of you.

And so this has been really, something that I've–we have–tried to focus on, as you know . . . because I think we have to see it, like if we can't see it, each other as children of God and identity is first and foremost, we can never really move forward and make progress, right? It's always going to be aisles, people sitting here, people sitting here. And if you can look at somebody and see them as a child of God, and see this is about Heavenly Father and His correctness and how He sees each of us, that we maybe will start to think about this differently.

We'll maybe start to think about, what is my place in this? Like, what can I do to have an impact? And I think we, you know, we see the Prophet calling us to action and asking us to take steps forward. And I think sometimes we don't, we don't understand that's literally an invitation. That's a request for us to actually do something, it's not just a nice for me to ponder and think about, it actually requires to take action.

And so that's where this comes from. And it really is–really kind of centers on this idea, you know, what's our identity? And then once we know our identity, what do we do? And how do we actually tackle this topic with that identity in mind, because literally, we're all children of God, we have to gather Israel. Gathering Israel isn't just one ethnicity. It isn't just Americans, it's not just white people.–it's everybody. It's allof God's children. And that's where kind of the power of this comes from for me.

Morgan Jones 26:25

Well, I am over here like, "Amen, amen, and amen." But I want to come back later to this idea of identity. But really quickly, I do think to your point about it not being a political issue. I know, based on our experience at LDS Living, there are people that view the prophet calling for us to root out racism, they have kind of a visceral reaction to that.

But I wonder for you, like when our Prophet talks about rooting out racism, what does that look like in action? I know when we get into statistics, it can begin to feel really overwhelming. But what would you say we as individuals can do, to do that in our individual lives?

Ronell Hugh 27:14

You know, I think it was President Oaks who made the statement to root out racism, right? And then President Nelson then talked about how can we abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice. And I think those two statements to me are so important to consider. You know, one of the things that I like to do and actually hit me over the summer, when I was thinking about this and continue to be asked to speak on this topic, I actually really reached–I really thought about, what is the prophet?

Do we believe him to be a prophet, right? Now first and foremost, I think a lot of us and you probably know this, and probably heard this before, but a prophet, for me is somebody who can inspire us and inspire us and be inspiring to the world. It's not just–a prophet isn't just somebody for members of the Church, right? So this call is for everyone. And then the second thing was, what does it mean, to abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice?

Like, what does that really mean? You know, I'm a marketer by trade. So I spent a lot of time researching and understanding people, it's really the psychology of people that I really get fascinated with, like, why they do what they do, right? And so when I think about this topic, that idea of like, our attitudes, and it's something I went on this journey around, you know, we have this long standing attitude, that roots in religious backing, right.

And it wasn't just the Church, you could do a lot of evidence that points to like Brigham Young. And it's not where I want to send it us on because it's not really the focus. But even preceding Brigham Young, you know, there were Portuguese, there were Spaniards who had this idea of this curse of Cain. That's an–that like that basing how we treat other people on what had been formalized then and has carried on throughout Europe and then brought to America as something that we can stand on, that creates an attitude, creates a perspective, you know.

And typically what I've done with this, I've tried this now multiple times, and I'll get an audience and say, "If you hear this, if this is the attitude, what action does it create?" And it's fascinating to me, because I hear comments like, "If this idea of a curse of Cain," or, you know, Bruce R. McConkie said, you know, they were less valient in the preexistence, speaking of Black people, if you have those attitudes, what does that create?

And people would say, it makes you think of those individuals as inferior, less than, you know. They're not important to your Heavenly Father, which is not true. Right? And along with that, it makes me think, and I always tell people, it's like, if you think about this, it really does shift then what the real focus of the article of faith number two is, right.

Which Article of Faith number two talks about how we can't be judged for others transgressions, right. So it is fascinating to think about it like hey, here we are saying–making the statement and so I always start there, because like, you have to really adjust your attitudes, those same attitudes that were more religious or spiritual in nature within use in secular ways, right, to do things that we know were harmful, and it's one of the things that, you know, I think is so important around this, we have to recognize that, and it's almost like the repentance–not actually not even just, it is the repentance process. y

You have to recognize when wrong has been done. And it doesn't mean I'm holding anybody to blame and say, we have to recognize it. None of us were there when this happened, especially in America. But I believe fully that we all own where we go for from here. And it starts by understanding these attitudes that have become pervasive in our–in a lot of the ways that we live sometimes. And how do we–and then when you think about rooting our racism? How do we pull those out? How do we see anew, right?

And then what do we do then going forward? And when we see things that aren't right, are we willing to be vocal about it? Are we willing to stand up in settings where it may be really uncomfortable to say, "Hey, what you're saying here is not right," or "What you're doing here in a business setting is not right." Or, you know, my brother shared which is painful for me to hear, in his ward, somebody actually got up in Church and talked about how inferior Black people were, and said, that was a truth from God, you know.

Morgan Jones 31:21


Ronell Hugh 31:22

And so this is a member of our faith getting up and actually–and so that's an attitude. And so there's so much work that has to be done there. And I think a lot of us, as members of the Church don't even know our past. It's not a blame for me, it's not a blame thing. I'm not blaming anybody, you know, you can, if you study history, and you study–if you like to do that–you will see, you know, especially here in the United States, there's so much you can find, but then it's like progress, progress is moving forward.

And one thing I often tell people is I use this analogy of a car, and I ask people, where do you sit in the car? Are you a driver or a passenger? Passengers are passive, they don't have to pay attention, they don't have to actually be involved at all right? They don't have to care where you're going. A driver, hopefully, cross our fingers, we see all types of drivers out there, right, but drivers have to be attentive, they have to understand the direction you're going.

And on this topic, it's like are you a driver or passenger? And what does that mean to be a driver? Are drivers interested in other people, they care about other people? Because that's the secondary commandment to love thy neighbor, and to love thy neighbor, what does that look like for me on this topic? Well, how often do we go and spend time with people who aren't like us?

We're conditioned to spend a lot of time with people who maybe believe the same things or act like we do or have the same interest, but do we have exposure to people who aren't like us? Do we spend time with them? Just being around whatever that may be, culture, ethnicity, groups, gender– it doesn't matter.

The second part of that is in having a dialogue. Do we have dialogue, not debate and debunk? I call it d&d and l&l? Do we have conversation or dialogue to debate and debunk? Or what we really should be doing, we should be having dialogue to actually listen and learn. It's listening and learning from each other. And that listening and learning is more about interest level, curiosity, right? Hopefully creating in us a deeper understanding which is the third item that I like to say, is the third item is creates a better understanding.

Now that understanding may not change any of our core beliefs. But I believe that understanding helps us to understand individuals or cultures or people in a deeper, more intimate way, which at the end of the day, is this idea that all of this–so exposure, dialogue, and understanding leads to us, you know, being able to embrace each other. I ultimately believe that's what Heavenly Father wants. I believe, that's what our Savior taught us when He was here on this earth. He went around embracing people.

Morgan Jones 33:43

For sure. So I mentioned that, you know, on one side of the coin, you have people that struggle with this call to to abandon attitudes and to root out racism. On the other hand, I think you have some that feel like the Church is not doing enough. How would you say that the Church is doing in this effort?

Ronell Hugh 34:08

I, for me, personally, and everybody, obviously, everybody's different. There's so much that we can–there's so much we have done and there's so much that we can do more. You know, I think what I've seen recently and over the last several years, I mean, I remember President Hinckley talking about this, that those–he made a statement around, I wish I had the quote in my hand here, but he made a statement around how he saw, you know, racism, raising its head again, and those who actually agree with that stance, can't consider themselves disciples of Jesus Christ.

So this isn't new, right. You know, I think the work that the Church of Jesus Christ has done in terms of highlighting that none of the justifications that were given before are valid, it's such an important part of how we move forward. The challenges, there's still people that actually believe that those are justifications.

Even today, you know, I've shared some of these things and people are like, "Well, what you're sharing is false." I'm like, "No, this is actually come from the Church. You find it." And I think it's a where we have an opportunity in the Church is deeper education on this topic in helping individuals understand. You know, here's the facts that we have. You know, here's what we know what happened. We don't know why. I think the big question that we don't know, is the why. Why did this happen?

And we won't know that because none of us can go back. If we had time machines, we could, but we can't go back and see, "Okay, tell us Brigham Young, why?" We don't know. But the thing that I do believe, and I think it was more for the people, that we needed to have a revelation with Spencer W. Kimball to actually move forward. I think it was more for the people at that time, because there are people that actually when they heard the news actually still left the Church.

And so I think there's so much more education that we need to do to help us as members, and brothers and sisters in the Gospel to understand, "Hey, this is where we should be thinking about this." This is how we have to–this is how you answer these questions. And there's some–the big question, mostly, though, that we don't know is like, why? And I can't tell anybody that.

Morgan Jones 36:20


Ronell Hugh 36:20

And that's how I tend to think about it.

Morgan Jones 36:24

I think you're spot on. I was at a state conference on Sunday, and one of the members of our stake presidency spoke about this call to root out racism. I was impressed that he did this. And I, you know, kind of sat there, there was a girl on the stand, who is mixed and had just gotten home from a mission, gave an incredible talk herself.

And she was probably the only person of color in the stake conference. And so I was sitting there and I was thinking, how is she feeling about this? You know, she's sitting on the stand, this talk is being given, and as soon as the conference was over, I noticed that she went over to this member of the stake presidency and thanked him for his talk. And I think for me, sometimes I'm so afraid of saying something wrong, that I let it keep me from trying. And so I wondered, for you, Ronell, why are these types of efforts impactful, even when we may not get it exactly right?

Ronell Hugh 37:37

It starts with the attempt, right? I think we all–what I've learned, it's where somebody is heart is. I can, I can generally get a sense, I think we're all pretty good, generally speaking at like, understanding where somebody is coming from.

Morgan Jones 37:50

Mm hmm.

Ronell Hugh 37:51

And so I think that is–that is where we start. I think the intent of the heart or somebody's why they're doing it. And the thing is, like we all get it, I'm not perfect at it. And my wife often says she's like, "I get it wrong often." And I think we all do, but I think it's through trying that we learn, and that we improve, and we get better at it.

You know, I think that's what's important about–it is a scary scenario, I think this is one of those conversations, it's very uncomfortable. It's not easy to have, it's probably not easy to hear. And it's hard to have the conversation. But I think the way that we move forward is having the conversation and talking about it, and then figuring out ways of how we can be a part of the solution.

And I think for a lot of people, for a lot of Black people, especially in the Church, it's almost like we get turned to as the resource to figure out how to solve it, right. And a lot of times, this is my sarcasm that comes in here, Morgan, is like, "Well, I didn't start it and neither did any of my ancestors. So why should I have to figure out how to fix this?"

Morgan Jones 38:58

Fix it, right.

Ronell Hugh 38:59

It's like, you know, but I'm willing to be here. I'm willing to have the conversation to figure out here's the impact it's had on me as a person that it's had on my parents and my, you know, my ancestors. So my question is, I don't want that to exist for anybody, so how do we do it?

Morgan Jones 39:16


Ronell Hugh 39:16

How do we do it in a meaningful way? And it requires us to come together, it requires us to be vulnerable, and I think that's the hardest part. I don't think anybody you know, I talk to a lot of–a lot of people when I do this and that come up, like, "Well, I feel guilty."

And I have to remind them, I don't think it's–it may be guilt that you're feeling. But I think it's more of like, "I haven't done anything." And maybe that's the real guilt. It's not shame. It's more of like, "What can I do?" You know, what's my place in this conversation?

I had a gentleman the other day and I was speaking at BYU something in the evening last Friday and he was like, "I live in a rural area. What can I do to actually to be more" he's like, "I live in a rural area, there's not many people of color. What can I do?"

I was like, well, what are you doing in your community? How are you advocating–you know when you hear things that are discussed that you know, are on this topic that are incorrect, what are you doing to actually stand up? To say that, "We don't believe this," especially when it's in a religious setting? Or it's with people who you know are members of the Church? And it's hard, I know that's uncomfortable to correct somebody. But we have to figure out ways to do that.

And then on the reverse of it, when you're, you know, having–when you're having conversations, or you're asking questions, just be vulnerable to know that, hey, I may ask the question the wrong way. Or I may say something the wrong way. And I'm okay with that because I'm like, "Hey, I'm learning too." I have to create spaces for other people to feel like they can ask questions. And I think we can do that as a black community in a lot of ways. But I think in general, if we do that, it makes it easier to have the right conversations to actually make have an impact on moving things forward.

Morgan Jones 40:53

Right, right. I completely agree. I love that you mentioned that conversation with the man from Idaho, because it reminds me of I–in preparation for this, I watched a talk that you gave virtually and you shared an experience. You talked about how your mom said that she often in her place of work, she has to listen to conversations where people are talking about these issues and voicing their opinions about them. And honestly, like this is gonna sound really ignorant on my part, but I never even considered that like that happens where you're like overhearing these things. And it's like, you're talking about me like, this involves me. And so I wondered if you could share a little bit about that experience, what your mom shared with you and why it's important for us to be thoughtful about our approach and the things that we're saying in relation to these racial issues.

Ronell Hugh 41:54

Yeah, and fortunately for my mom she retired recently. So it's been awesome actually, for her. But she–it's interesting. She in her experience working at a local hospital in Provo, many times, especially when you know, everything around Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd happened, and that kind of really erupted into what we were have today in these conversations, you know, there were so many things that were said. And my mom, just listen and my mom is, you know, she's very kind, compassionate. But she's like any, you know, she's like any parent and anybody who's kind of has experience with it, she was like, she was so sad and frustrated, that rather than people asking the conversations, they were making up their own stories.

They were validating what we have happened in the world that we hear in terms of attitudes about Black people. Well, they probably deserved it, they probably did this, they probably have a criminal history and all these things. And it's these broad assumptions, right? It's interesting, because what I found is because of what I share with you before about this kind of this equation of like, how we can do this and how we can improve, people don't do that, then we just started thinking, "I see this on TV," or "I've heard this," and it's like, well you're making assumptions, we have no idea, right?

And if you want to truly understand a person's experience, why not ask them? Why not have confidence enough to ask somebody, if you believe that they're friends so that you can learn about their experiences. And I think that, you know, my mom, when she experienced this, you know, she listens, and at moments, you'll say things, but mostly she doesn't, because she can, she can recognize that certain individuals aren't open to it.

They've already created these attitudes, these perspectives that they're leaning heavily into, and keeping, because they feel like they are correct. And I think that's the saddest part for me is that when we don't sit back, and that's why we start with this idea of like attitude, because they were formulated over the years, a lot of these attitudes were incorrect about Black people.

They would, you know, the stereotypes that you've heard of, and we all, I mean, there are stereotypes everywhere, right? But these are ones that were really grounded and kind of really foundational and around slavery and around what we have today in terms of racism. And so when you unpack that, you start to think, "Okay, how do I change that?" And I think with my mom, it's always been like, well, if people were to sit down–she said to me even today, I was talking to her before I started with chatting with you today, Morgan, she said to me, "I wish that people knew that most Black people don't have animosity, we just want to be able to move forward. We want to be able to thrive but we can't do that on our own because we don't create the circumstances."

Which is you know, it is sad for me to hear my mom talking that way.

Morgan Jones 44:40


Ronell Hugh 44:40

Right. And so that's how you know these experiences. I think it's–there's so many of these that happen, but I think it starts with us being able to really understand where we're at and then being willing, and I think actually, Presidnet Nelson said this, how many times we do this. You know, one of the–I can't remember which issue of the Liahona that came out but it talks about this around race. What do we need to do? Go listen to somebody's experience. And I think we'll all hear and learn different things that will hopefully open our eyes and our hearts.

Morgan Jones 45:10

For sure, well, and I have definitely not been perfect in this. But I will say the conversations that I've been able to have over the last couple of years have changed my perspective. And I've been grateful for friends that have been willing to to have those conversations, because like you said, like, why should we have to fix it?

But fortunately, I've had friends that have been willing to have those conversations, which I've been super, super grateful for. Ronell how do you respond in instances where someone, many times I think, despite their best efforts or intentions, says something that is offensive?

Ronell Hugh 45:58

I can think of multiple experiences. You know, it's interesting, it's . . . my initial thought process, typically, really trying to understand where they're coming from. I remember an experience I had in Seattle, I was in, I was in a bishopric it was my second time being in one and I was, you know, I had some gentleman who I didn't know was the parents of one of the families in our Ward, who was visiting came up to me, and he said, "It's so nice having people like you on the stand." And then I was like, "People like, like, who?" And I just was like, okay, whatever.

And I was, like I said, "Fine. Hey, thank you. Glad to be here." And I told the other bishopric member, he's like, and we were talking about at some point after this, he's like, "Those things never happen." And so fast forward a couple months, the same gentleman comes back, the other counselor is standing next to me. And the gentleman says the same thing. Like, "It's so nice to have people," which I appreciate, right? It's not it's not a–it's like, I know what he's trying to say. We're like, hey, it's good.

And I can see this other counselor, it's like one of those comics where his jaw just drops, it's kind of like just falling wider and wider. He's like, "Those experiences really do happen to you a lot." And I was like, well, yeah, they do. But I can't approach all of them in a way of like, you know, people are meaning to be mean. They really are in a lot of ways excited that we do see change in the Church, but it's also sad that that has to be a statement that's made.

It's like kind of like, wow, like, yeah, it is, you know, and I, and for me I feel it's an honor. But typically . . . it can be hard. There's been several expenriences I've had, you know, I remember being at BYU wants to go into a sporting event. I went up to the concessions to get some food. And again, I said earlier, I got, you know, I was an athlete, I played college sports. And you know, and so the gentleman said to me, "Well, what sport do you play here?" And I said, and I, again, sarcastically, I was like, "The sport of academics," because that's what I was doing. And he literally said, "No, no, really, what sport do you play?"

And in those moments, you just kinda have to look at the individual and say, you know, there's nothing you can do. There's nothing–there's nothing I can say, because I was trying to do it in a kind way, just to kind of, yeah, but he was really emphatic about no, you can't be here for school because, you know, whatever, that he may be thinking, that I can't be there for academics, I'm here for a sport.

And a lot of times you just have to, you know, for me, there's nothing I can do. I'm not going to–I can't change somebody who doesn't see the errors in their ways, right. And, and so my wife and we were dating, you know, I remember us being at a BYU football game and she was, we were holding hands and somebody came up to her and said to her pointing at us holding hands and saying to her, "You know what you're doing is wrong." Right? So this is 2002, Fall of 2002.

And my wife who served a mission in Italy said, "Well, I served a mission," and the person said back to her and the woman said, "Well you of all people should know better." And I was having a conversation my friends so I didn't really hear all this and my wife was blown away this is her–this is my wife so this is her first experience with racism because she had no idea how to deal with it right? She can only do so much and so these things you know and these things happen and a lot of them are offensive some of them are not offensive but just kind of require a little bit more education and I'm fine doing that but the ones that are super offensive I just choose to walk away from because me getting, you know, vocal or angry about it doesn't do me any good because then I'm again cast in that light that stereotype about you know, "Black men are angry," You know, it's like no I don't have time to deal with that cause I'm not angry but it's me that would be considered angry.

Morgan Jones 49:43


Ronell Hugh 49:43

So I have to choose to walk away and leave it alone. And not engage because I don't have time for that.

Morgan Jones 49:53

Right now I so appreciate all the things that you're sharing and I'm learning a lot. I think one of the things that I've been really grateful for is the way that you refer back to identity. And this is something that I've thought a lot about. I remember years ago, I was at the Deseret News and something came up about, you know, when an identity, whether it be an identity as a journalist, or an identity as a certain race or ethnicity, or an identity, as you know, our gender, sexual orientation, whatever that identity is, at the point in which that identity becomes more important than our identity as a child of God, that's when things get out of balance. And so I love that you've mentioned identity several times, and that your core identity is as a child of God. And that's all of our core identity. Why would you say that it's important to make sure that the different parts of our identity are given proper priority?

Ronell Hugh 51:03

You know, that's a good, that's a good question to ask, because that me think of a quote that I want to share. That hits on this. It's interesting, because President M. Russell Ballard said this. And I really like this, that he says this, he says, and this is last April general conference, he said, "Because we are the spiritual children of God, everyone has a divine origin, nature and potential. Each of us is a beloved spirit, son or daughter of Heavenly Parents. This is our identity. This is who we really are. Our spiritual identity is enhanced." Which I love that word, "Is enhanced, as we understand our many mortal identities, including ethnic, cultural, or national heritage."

And for me, what other you know whatever piece of mortal identities we have. "This sense of spiritual and cultural identity, love and belonging can inspire hope and love for Jesus Christ." I love that quote, because it really hits on this idea that identity should first and foremost start with who we are in terms of being, you know, daughters and sons of God. Like, that's really who we are. And it doesn't matter what our religious affiliation is.

I remember speaking at something when I worked for Adobe, and I said, I brought this up in a business setting that like, the reason that I feel so passionate about treating all people with respect is because I know that everyone is a child of God. And that then invokes in me to truly live that commandment to love them. It isn't, you know, I think we, we . . . it's interesting to see this, because of our identity, and because of the way Satan works with our identity, because we know that he doesn't want us to be happy, we know that he doesn't want us to be happy with each other, he likes to have strife and contention.

He finds ways to kind of wedge his self in there. And one of the ways that he's wedged himself in there in terms of identity is that we tend to use our identity and sometimes as a weapon, right. And what I mean by that is like, rather than loving others, we do more judging, which is interesting, because the commandment was to love our neighbor, not to judge them. And the Lord says not to judge them, to judge others, right.

But we do the opposite. And it's an easy way, I believe, for the adversary to create division between us, right. And I think that's something that we have to really be mindful of. And so I really think that this idea of our identity, being grounded in who we are, that we're children of God, and how does that then become something that's pervasive and how we live our lives, and how we see others and how we treat others and how we talk to others, and how we invite others and how we care for others–it, to me, there's no separation.

You know, for me, that's one thing I don't want to leave this world, going back to my Heavenly Father and having Him said, "Yeah, your identity, you got it all wrong, because how you then acted was not really in true sense of what your identity should have been focused on. Which was you being a child of God and then how does that then create a new desire to really help and love and support others who are also children of God?"

Morgan Jones 54:12

So well said thank you so much. Ronell, my last question for you is what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Ronell Hugh 54:22

Yeah, I mean, first of all, Morga, thank you for having me. You know, for me being all in is really focused on fine tuning who I am as a son of God. Daily working on it. Being all in for me means living in a way where when others engage with me and hopefully I don't have to pronounce or say or announce, excuse me, like that I'm you know, a member the Church, but that they feel that. They can sense that. They sense something that's different because they can feel my respect and admiration for them.

Which has been fascinating for me because in my, not just in my you know, religious life but also my career, I've made some great connections with people who are not of our faith, who to this day, want to . . . with me because, you always treated me with respect, you were honest, you are a person of high integrity. That's what I believe all in means.

For me all it means how are we representing not just ourselves, but our Savior. And our walk in our probationary state as we hear in the scriptures. But what does that look like? And I'm not perfect, I have so much further to go in terms of how I do that. But it's a constant thing that I think about. And for me, being all in means working every day to be that person.

I know I won't reach perfection in this life, which we all should know. But I know I can be better every day. And then really being an example, you know, to those who I live around. My kids, more importantly, and my wife, being a better example to them in terms of how I live the gospel. So that's how I think about, you know, what does it mean to me to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it means really, for me is to know who I am as a son of God, and really to love those around me in the deepest way possible, and exemplifying the Savior's love as much as I can.

Morgan Jones 56:15

Awesome. Thank you so much. It has been such a pleasure to talk with you. And I really, really appreciate your time.

Ronell Hugh 56:22

No, thank you, Morgan. I appreciate your time. Thank you for the conversation. And thank you for all that you're doing. So appreciate it.

Morgan Jones 56:28

We are so grateful to Ronell Hugh for joining us on this week's episode. I learned so much from this interview and I hope you did too. Huge thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode. And thank you all so much for listening. We'll be with you again next week.

View More