Natasha Helfer Parker interviews Dustin Jones, a black active latter-day saint, about the unique challenges of growing up Mormon as one who has African ancestry. Dustin is bi-racial (Anglo and African-American) and was born and raised in the LDS Church. Dustin is a direct descendant of Levi Ward Hancock, one of the first Seven Presidents of the Seventy, whose descendants ultimately settled northern Arizona where his mother was born. His father’s family are descendants of freed African slaves from Mississippi who moved to northern Arizona in the 1950s fleeing persecution and to find employment opportunities with the railroad.
At the time of Dustin’s birth in 1972, the LDS Church’s teachings on blacks, including their lack of valiancy in the pre-existence, the seed of Cain, the mark and curse, interracial marriage, opposition to civil rights/public accommodations, etc., were well established doctrines promoted by many of the leaders of the Church and propagated by its faithful membership. Growing up bi-racial presented issues for Dustin, for on the one hand, he was taught to celebrate his proud Mormon pioneer heritage; but on the other hand, he was forced to faithfully reconcile this with the inferiority complex engendered by the teachings of the “negro doctrine.” Reconciling these two heritages has been his life-long desire and burden.
This “negro doctrine” was further reinforced by Dustin’s own patriarchal blessing, which specifically omits any reference to belonging to any tribe of Israel but offers him blessings “by reason of adoption into the House of Israel.” Perplexed by not belonging to any specific tribe of Israel, Dustin pressed the patriarch who in 1991 explained that Dustin’s “lineage” was that of Cain and that he would be entitled to the blessings of Israel only by way of adoption into the House of Israel. Dustin lived believing he was truly a descendant of Cain, attempting to prove himself worthy of the fulness of the Lord’s blessings.
Dustin attended the University of Arizona and earned a degree in Latin American Studies and Political Science before attending law school. He is currently a lobbyist and real estate development attorney in private practice in Phoenix, and occasionally takes on a compelling civil rights and immigration rights case. While serving as a partner at the regional law firm of Snell & Wilmer, LLP, he was appointed to two terms on Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano’s African-American Advisory Council. He served in the New York New York Mission from 1991-1993 and has served as a seminary teacher, institute instructor, stake young men president, and counselor in a bishopric. Dustin most recently served as a stake High Councilor and Public Affairs Director.
Dustin is married. His wife also has an interracial background (Chinese and Mexican). They are the proud parents of four kids (3 girls, 1 boy).