Twenty-five members of the diocesan Black Catholic Community attended this year’s National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC), which is held every five years in various locations across the United States. This year’s Congress was held in Orlando, Florida from July 6-9, 2017 with the theme, The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: Act Justly, Love Goodness and Walk Humbly with Your God. While the NBCC attendees witnessed many of the same speakers and presentations, each individual walked away from the Congress with a different perspective. Below are the reflections of a few of our Black Catholic Community members who attended the National Black Catholic Congress XII:
Reflection from Patricia Jacobs, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Alexandria
“I was blessed and privileged to attend the Congress in Orlando, Florida. This was the first Congress that I have attended and I was very excited and pleased to have been chosen to go. My overall opinion, which I could see immediately, was that it was very well organized and designed to address ‘real’ issues in today’s world.
All of the General Sessions were excellent and inspiring. However, I enjoyed Dr. Bent-Goodley and Attorney Bryan Stevenson the most. Their topics had a special interest for me. With regards to the workshops, I found both, the topics and the presenters, to be interesting and relevant. Deciding on which ones to attend was difficult as there were so many to choose from. I finally decided on: Racism: A Negative and Real Destructive Force; The Unrest in Ferguson: Archdiocese of St. Louis – Best Practices and Lessons Learned; Methodical Bible Study that Works; and, Racism: A Negative and Real Destructive Force. (I used to live very close to Ferguson so that workshop was personal for me. I had no idea that the Church/Bishop was so involved).
In addition to the General Sessions and Workshops, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting other Black Catholics from around the country. I thought the event was ‘Awesome’ and I am glad to have had the opportunity to attend and look forward to the next one.”
Reflection from Barbara Harris, Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church
“I thought the whole Congress was well organized! I enjoyed every minute, especially the Welcoming and the Eucharistic Liturgy at the Basilica. The workshops I attended were led by Tonya Dorsey. I learned some tips on how to sight read and how to be a better choir member. I sang in the choir at the Basilica and at the Eucharistic Liturgies both Saturday and Sunday mornings! I also sang in the Gospel Concert!! 😊 (The Lord is Good all the Time!) I especially enjoyed meeting members from other parishes. I am originally from Omaha, Nebraska and it was really special for me to see members from St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Omaha who I haven’t seen in ages!”
Reflection from Phyllis & Anthony Johnson, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Alexandria
“Anthony and I were presenters for the interactive workshop entitled: I knew you before you were born.
This was an ‘interactive’ workshop targeted at young adults. A total of four workshops were given. Almost 90 attendees took part in the interactive workshops’ which were very well received.
A number of clergy sat in and took active roles with each group’s breakout session. Each group had seven questions to answer. This afforded them the opportunity to discuss and share among themselves things that work and do not work in their individual parishes. At the conclusion of each interactive session – results were shared among all the attendees.
At least two attendees admitted to the group that they did not think or feel confident that a PRO LIFE discussion could be held in an ‘interactive’ forum with their views being addressed head on. In fact that is exactly what happened for this attendee – I am paraphrasing – as one group participant put it, ‘I’m so glad Father was there to address my concerns directly – because of that I now see that PRO LIFE is much more than just an abortion issue.'”
Reflection from Sharon & Ben Carter, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Alexandria
“This was our first time attending a National Black Congress and it exceeded our expectations! It was a fantastic learning, spiritual, and faith-filled time.
The Congress was well planned and the theme, The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: act justly, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God, radiated throughout the event. It was reinforced in the remarks of the speakers in the general sessions, as well as in the workshops.
Our favorite speaker was Bryan Stevenson, Esq.—“Love Mercy and Do Justice: Confronting Mass Incarceration, Racial Bias and Poverty”. His charge to all of us to change the narrative of fear and anger, to do things that are uncomfortable, to become proximate were compelling and actions we hope to take forward in our lives and to our parish.
The participation of the youth in the Congress was heartwarming and comforting. It solidified the importance of our youth in our churches, and how we must listen to them and include them in our programs. Hopefully, at the next Congress, our church will have members of our youth participating. As one of our speakers noted, the youth are our church Now and in the Future.
We are so grateful to Deacon Al Anderson, Jr. for his leadership, love and guidance. And, to the Diocese for supporting us financially and spiritually in our journey and participation in this Congress. It has filled our hearts and our souls with a burning desire to continue our journey to live as Christ wants us to live and to share His Word.”
Reflection from Ciara Vega-Strickland, Former St. Joseph parishioner, now living in Florida
“First I would like to thank Deacon Al Anderson, Jr. so much for inviting me to the conference. It was truly an amazing experience to see so many African Americans of all ages present. Of course you always hear “What, you are a black Catholic?” Felt good to not hear that for once.
I truly think this conference should be held more often so that we can help each other across the world. The sessions were great eye openers to things that are in front of us daily that we don’t always think about. I think the conference should be every 2-3 years, as so much can change over a 5 year period and I feel like we need to stay up-to-date on what’s happening now and live in the moments of time.
Out of the general sessions my favorite session would have to be “Love Mercy and Do Justice: Confronting Mass Incarceration, Racial Bias and Poverty.” by Bryan Stevenson. It was very eye opening since currently in Pensacola we have overcrowded jails with 30% of the inmates sleeping on the floors. I learned this after I came back home and started looking into how I can help the community I live in. I have also ordered his book to dig deeper into what he was speaking on. I also looked into the number of people in jail that can’t afford bail.
I also attended Deacon Al and Mrs. Anderson’s youth workshop “You are never to young to be Pro Life”… It was a great session. Where the kids got to open up and talk freely. My heart my crushed when I found out not one Church had a Pro Life group. I remember being in elementary school helping out with Pro life events. It also was sad that these kids had to worry about drugs and people being killed steps away from their Churches and Schools. It made me realize how I grew up so active in the Church isn’t how everyone grows up. Being able to travel and learn so much about our culture. I wish we could do like a big sister/big brother program with the other black Catholic Churches that don’t have the resources like we do.”
Reflection from Thaleia Deramous, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Alexandria
“I greatly appreciate the opportunity to travel to Orlando to experience the Congress this year. It was so nice to be able to get together with over 2,000 Black Catholics from around the world. Overall the conference was great. I enjoyed hearing Cardinal Turkson speak as well as Mr. Bryan Stevenson, who spoke about our prison systems. He was EXCELLENT!!! I’ve already ordered his book, Just Mercy. I greatly enjoyed the Mass at the Shrine and the Homily. That priest gave a compelling homily that really spoke to what we as blacks are dealing with today. “