During the last National Black Catholic Congress, which took place in Chicago five years ago, black Catholic leaders from throughout the United States identified eight principles that posed unique challenges to their communities: Africa, Catholic education, HIV and AIDS, parish life, racism, social justice, spirituality, and youth and young adults.
Since then, leadership commissions have been meeting to research each issue in depth. Now, with the advent of the 10th National Black Catholic Congress, which is scheduled for July 12-17 in Buffalo, those leadership commissions are putting the final touches on their research.
Rochester resident Freida McCray, a member of the congress’ leadership commission on Catholic education and a parishioner at Rochester’s Immaculate Conception Parish, said her commission will use two sessions to present its findings. The presentation will include details on 10 funding sources that Catholic schools can tap.
“Our goal is to sustain Catholic schools in the black community,” McCray said.
The congress will feature presentations from national and international speakers and experts. In addition to presentations on the principles, congress participants also will explore the sacraments and how they speak to contemporary lives as part of the event’s theme, “Christ is With Us: Celebrating the Gifts of the Sacraments.”
Organizers expect at least 2,500 attendees from throughout the country. Rooms reserved in four downtown Buffalo hotels have all sold out, said Brenda Easley Webb, director of the Diocese of Buffalo’s Office of Black Ministry. Webb said this is the first time the Congress has ever been held in New York state.
One main benefit of the congress is that it gives people a chance to network and build a support system among their ministries, said Father Michael Upson, director of the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Black Ministries.
He said participants are able to find out what’s happening nationally and locally.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “Every five years the African-American Catholic community arranges one time for people to come together and focus on issues that affect the African-American Catholic community and the African-American community at large.”
Making connections among educators is one goal of the education commission, said McCray, who spent 24 years as an administrator at the State University of New York College at Brockport, including many years as associate director of college admissions.
Many Catholic schools that primarily served African-American students have closed down in dioceses across the country, she said. However, the commission did find positive examples of schools that were able to stay open or, in some cases, reopen.
McCray said the commission gathered its results into a book called Sustaining Catholic Education in and for the Black Community.
“It was an exciting project, and very eye-opening,” said McCray, now a part-time teacher in the Rochester City School District and an educational consultant. “We want (the schools) to be authentically Catholic and academically challenging.”
Joanne Gordon, cochair of the congress’s entertainment committee and another parishioner of Immaculate Conception, said one congress highlight for Rochester-area delegates will be the participation of a large contingent of young people from the parish’s liturgical-dance group. Due to the travel expense, it was not possible to send many Rochester young people to the Chicago congress.
The group will not be performing at the event, she said, but members plan to attend several workshops on liturgical dance.
The congress also will feature Rochester entertainers, including jazz musician Jimmie Highsmith Jr., Rochester’s African-American women’s gospel choir Akoma, Christian vocalist Tamara Marcella and drum ensemble Bata Con Pies.
Gordon said she wanted to become involved in organizing the Buffalo event because she found the Chicago congress to be electrifying.
“It was a feeling of pride seeing so many people of color come together,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Registration for the National Black Catholic Congress costs $215 per person for adults and young adults ages 18 to 26, and $125 for youths ages 13 to 17. To register or for more details, visit www.nbccongress.org or contact Marydel Gaiser at 716/693-0178 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.