By Deacon Al Anderson, Jr. & Ed Jones
We recently attended the 14th annual National Black Catholic Men’s Conference, held in Miami, FL October 5th – 8th. The conference is presented each year by the Bowman Francis Ministry Project, under the leadership of three Society of Divine Word (SVD) priests: twins Reverend Charles and Chester Smith SVD, and Reverend Rev Ken Hamilton SVD
In answer to the question” Why a Black Catholic Men’s Conference?” the brochure states “We are committed Black men, principally Catholic, who recognize our need for God’s help! We gather in Christ’s presence in an atmosphere of trust, equality and anonymity, to share personal feelings and experiences. We unconditionally accept one another and prayerfully support one another. We feel encouraged by the Holy Spirit to share with one another….. Men to Men!”
The theme of this year’s gathering was “The Challenge is to Silence the Mind”. The goal was to provide a holistic and healthy approach to rid ourselves of the negative “noise” (i.e. self-doubt, low self-esteem, rage, etc.) that inhibits us from successfully contending with the psychological and spiritual warfare that many African American men and boys face in today’s society; to provide tools for effectively dealing with pervasive violence, drugs and mass incarceration.
Fr. Sydney Speaks gave very powerful reflection titled “Authority is in the Air”, at the opening session on Thursday evening. He reminded us that true authority comes only from God and those in positions of authority should use it with a servant’s mentality; glorifying God, rather than themselves. Fr. Sydney also exhorted us to not shy away from the authority that we have been given but to eagerly embrace it; while constantly praying for God’s wisdom and seeking the counsel of our brothers and sisters. He has a very active youth ministry and was the primary speaker at the various youth tracts that were presented at the conference.
Each day began with Praise and Worship, led by the dynamic Gospel music group Men in the Fire. Afterwards, there were many excellent workshops and keynote addresses on a wide range of topics including: “The History of Black Catholicism”, by Fr. George Kinitba; “Urban Education in the Black Community” by Dr. Donald Edwards, Ed.D; “All Green/and No Black-Environmental Activism is Social Justice Activism” by Dr. Griena Knight-Davis, LPC; and many, many more (Too many to list here)!
We attended several very good workshops. One that particularly impressed me was titled “The Stigma Associated with African American Male Incarceration” by Dr. Wylie Tidwell, PhD. Dr. Tidwell outlined several root causes, historical and current, of Mass Incarceration in the African American community:
- Reconstruction after slavery – the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery except as punishment for a crime. Reconstruction also gave birth to Jim Crow laws.
- Lack of Civic Participation – Placing of barriers, such as gerrymandering, designed to exclude Black folks from participation in the political process.
- Breakdown of Black Families and Communities
- Deformation of the Black Church and the rise of impersonal / cold mega churches.
The workshop “Where are all the Black Men”, presented by Msgr. Fredrico Britto addressed concerns faced by many churches regarding male absence from the congregation and church activities. The presenter stated that the average Black Church is made up of 75% female and 75% elders, which posed the question, “what happened to them?” This spawned a lively and interesting open discussion on possible reasons that may have brought about the lack of participation. The suggested list of reasons was endless but very insightful and enlightening. Some suggested approaches to getting them back involved included:
- Men need to hear other men witness to them about the goodness of Jesus
- Have men to men support groups that include prayer, Bible study, Men’s Day Program and service to the church
- Ask them for their help (using their professional skills)
- Mentoring program, Rites of Passage program
The closing Mass for the Conference was held on Saturday evening at the Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission in the heart of Miami’s “Little Haiti”. Bishop Burchell McPherson, a former pastor of the parish (for 18 yrs.) was the celebrant for the Mass. Concelebrating were many African American and African priest from around the country. Fr. Stephen Brown, SVD gave a rousing homily on the conference theme of “The Challenge is to Silence the Mind”. Men in the Fire provided the music ministry for the Mass. The conference ended on Sunday morning with a Healing and Commissioning Service led by Fr. Hamilton.
We have attended several of these conferences in the past and have always come back renewed and refreshed in the Spirit and given much information and counsel on how to better serve my own diaconal ministry. We look forward to next year!