Black Catholics plan for the future at heritage celebration

COLUMBIA — This year’s Black Catholic Heritage Celebration gave African-American Catholics in South Carolina an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments of the past and present. Through workshops, speakers, and its own enormous success, the celebration provided great hope for the future of African-American Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston.
More than 400 people from throughout the state attended the celebration  at the Embassy Suites Hotel June 11-12. The theme was “A Salute to Catholic Education, The Key to the 21st Century” and the Heritage Committee planned events that would appeal to different age groups.
Deacon Henry Fulmer from St. Martin de Porres Church gave a session for youth called “Living as a Catholic Teen in a Hip Hop Culture.” He let the young people talk about their favorite musical artists and explain why they liked them. The deacon then asked the youth to reflect on what kind of story they would tell in their music. He asked them if God would be in their story.
“We must never forget we are brought up coming through the church,” Deacon Fulmer said. “We represent someone, as Christians; we represent God.”
Other activities for the youth included art and writing contests with the education theme, a trip to the zoo, a college informational seminar and a dance.
For adults, an educational forum was held with several panelists who addressed ways to promote self-esteem and stressed the importance of positive role models for African-American youth.
Margaret Adams, Ph.D., diocesan director of Catholic schools, addressed the participants. She reassured them that the diocese is committed to keeping traditional African-American Catholic schools open. She also asked the Office of Black Catholics to research why black Catholic parents are not sending their children to these schools, where  most of the students are not Catholic.
On Saturday, two workshops took place for the adults: “Spreading the Good News through Peace and Justice” was led by Ralph McCloud from the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, and “The New Evangelization: Young Adult Black Catholics” was facilitated by Ethnic Ministries Director Kathleen Merritt and Leland Cave, youth leader at St. Martin de Porres Church. While Merritt provide statistical information about young black Catholics, Cave shared his personal struggle to defend his faith as a young person.
Catholic families came together for Mass at St. Peter Church with concelebrants Bishop Robert J. Baker of the Diocese of Charleston and Bishop George V. Murry of the Society of Jesus, who is bishop of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
Bishop Murry gave the keynote address at the banquet. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., and a Master of Philosophy and a doctorate in American cultural history from George Washington University.  In his talk, the longtime educator outlined the path Catholic education should take to produce future leaders, especially those needed in the African-American community.
Bishop Murry believes that a leadership component should be added to the school’s curriculum. In his personal research, he found that leadership requires three main components that can be taught: vision (lift one’s head and see new horizons), courage (determination to act), and magnetism (drawing others to your vision).
“We can teach our students to personally sustain a land of hope for all, regardless of color and class,” the bishop said.
 Judge Arthur McFarland, supreme knight of the Knights of Peter Claver,  remarked that with a black bishop and two black priests present, “We are seeing the vision of our forefathers coming full circle.” He said that it is a historic moment when an African-American becomes a priest and leader of the church, because the path continues to be a difficult one.
Roosevelt Cummings, state deputy and executive officer of the Knights of Columbus in South Carolina, noted another reason why the celebration was a significant event. For the first time, the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of Peter Claver served together as honor guards for the bishop during the Mass.
“I thought it brought home to rest the fact that whether you are a member of the Knights of Columbus or the Knights of Peter Claver, you are doing the same work,” Cummings said. “In the future I would like to see both groups join hands on other projects and promote Christian values, side by side.”
Cummings also took the opportunity to present Bishop Baker with a check from the Knights of Columbus for $6,000 for seminarian education.
At the banquet, Father Paul Williams, diocesan vicar for Black Catholics, presented St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia and St. Anthony of Padua School in Greenville with proclamations from the state legislature applauding the outstanding job they have done in providing children with a learning environment where there is dignity and respect.
Father Williams also recognized Deacon Roland Thomas, the longest- serving deacon in the diocese, for his outstanding service.
“Not only is Deacon Thomas faithful in the parish, but he has been dedicated to prison ministry for both men and women,” Father Williams said.