Normally, FigLittles product delays are caused by the shipping lanes between China and Texas... communication issues over the Alibaba app, etc. Not the Restoration Buddies! Creating this playkit has been a personal expedition to find both inspiration and truth. As hard as I tried to churn out a kit to be quick to market (my husband's plea) with the start of studying D&C for the Come Follow Me curriculum, as an artist I hated it. The “Joseph and Emma dress-up kit” as I reluctantly called it, felt uninspired. Like I was creating just for the sake of creating. I felt like a business person first and an artist second, when really my true passion primarily lies in my role as a creator. For a long time I resented this lack of inspiration and tried to just “get over it”, but in retrospect, this muddled and frustrating part of the process was absolutely critical.
When I designed the Original Book of Mormon Buddies Magnetic Figures, I found inspiration in the fact that we don’t actually know WHAT the ancient prophets and people of the Book of Mormon looked like, so I wanted to give kids a hands-on way to bring creativity and personal connection to the people we read about in the scriptures. But, since we have a pretty dang clear idea of what Joseph, Emma, and other “major players” involved in the Restoration looked like, the energy behind this motivation just wasn’t the same.
As I tried to figure out how to move forward, I was sparked by the idea of creating a more diverse Restoration teaching tool for kids. I have loved discovering other artists’ visions of diversity in divinity and as an artist myself, I DO feel passionately about increasing diversity within LDS artwork. But, as much as I wanted to include people of color in the Restoration Buddies playkit, I didn’t know how historically accurate it would be. I knew absolutely nothing about black pioneers and early saints, and the fear of being accused of practicing tokenism, or trying to “make a buck” off of the current social climate paralyzed me for a long time. Still, the idea of creating a more diverse Restoration playkit kept calling to me, so I took a step back from the artistic/design side of the project and started researching.
I felt especially drawn to chase down a couple of family stories I’d heard about black pioneers who made the journey West alongside my ancestors. I had avoided verifying these stories for a long time because I was afraid of discovering that my ancestors practiced slavery. But, I couldn’t ignore the feeling that this was the right path forward, so I started reading everything I could find about my relatives who would have been alive during the Restoration time period.
As it turns out...my ancestors definitely practiced enslavement. (well, damnit). In my research, I was led to the stories of Hark Lay Wales and Oscar Crosby, two brothers enslaved by my ancestors who were sent as part of the original VanGuard Company that actually arrived in the Salt Lake Valley before Brigham Young did. Along with another enslaved man, Green Flake, they were plowing fields and planting crops days before Brother Brigham ever declared “this is the place!” What a fascinating and widely unknown story! The dread I felt anticipating the discovery of my ancestors’ practicing slavery was replaced by humility and gratitude for being led to learn about these men. Any doubts I had about the historical accuracy of including black people in my Restoration magnetic kit were immediately replaced with the firm belief that including black people is actually the MOST historically accurate decision I could make.
I was able to move forward and finish the design and send it off to my manufacturer, but I still hesitated to release the kit for presale. I felt totally inadequate to share these pioneers’ stories. What business did I have circulating what I’d learned about racism in LDS church history? A topic that is complicated at best, and ignored or even hidden at its worst. I felt incompetent, especially next to others who have been studying this topic for a whole lot longer than I had. But, I was inspired by the words of Maya Angelou when she said “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” So, even though I’m no scholar or historian, now that I know better I can do better by sharing the powerful truths that I’ve learned through my creative capabilities. I am encouraged that even though I can’t change the past, I can do SOMETHING. I was 30 years old and learning about the contributions of black pioneers and early saints for the first time in my entire life, but my daughters are learning these truths at 3 and 6 years old. In one generation, the learning curve was cut down by 20+ years and I think that’s pretty cool.
Over the last 5 months I have been so humbled to learn that not only did black pioneers exist, but learning their stories is critical to better understanding the Restoration of the church and moving forward together in unity. If you’d like to learn more too, I put together a post with seven of my most valuable sources for reading and researching black pioneers and early saints. They are a huge part of the LDS story that has been neglected over the last 200 years, and I’m so excited to be able to share what I've learned.