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Watch: How a Black Panther found his value in Jesus Christ

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In a new video, Latter-day Saint Eddie Leroy Willis shares his story of the challenges he faced growing up in the Lower Bottoms of West Oakland, California; his experiences in the Black Panther Party; and his eventual introduction to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Recalling his childhood, Willis says, “West Oakland in itself was a tough part of town. The Lower Bottom was even tougher. Every day in the neighborhood or at school, you had to be ready for battle. Basically, that’s how I learned to fight. If you don’t, you don’t survive.”

Willis’s teenage and young adult years were tumultuous as a result of his traumatic upbringing. He turned to crime, drugs, and alcohol and joined the Black Panther Party, a Black power organization that promoted Black nationalism, racial equality, and serving underprivileged children.

► You may also like: Panther to priesthood: A Black Latter-day Saint’s experience with racism and belief

But the Panthers didn’t help Willis find lasting fulfillment, and he didn’t like where his life was leading. “Life was a disappointment to me,” he says. “I had gotten hooked on drugs. I was living terribly, breaking my mother’s heart. And I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, this can’t be it. There’s got to be something better than this.’”

Watch the video below to see how Willis eventually found lasting meaning in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and hear his unique perspectives on being a Black member of the Church.

You can also click here to read an excerpt from Willis’s memoir, Panther to Priesthood, available now at Deseret Book.

Panther to Priesthood

For Ed Willis, life was one harsh blow after another. But between jail time, drug addiction, unemployment, racism, and family strife, there were brief flashes when the light of Christ touched Ed’s heart. He sought meaning and self-worth wherever he could find it—including, for a time, as a member of the Black Panther Party fighting for freedom, racial equality, and underprivileged children.

In this raw, gritty memoir, Willis shares how a lifetime of hardship was, in its own way, preparing him to receive the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through his unique voice and willingness to share with sometimes painful vulnerability, you will gain valuable perspective to increase in empathy, challenge preconceptions, and overcome the odds through the Savior’s mercy and grace as you witness the lengths to which God will go to save each of His children.

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