One Church Many Cultures The Good News of Cultural Diversity Fall/Winter 2020

Cultural Family Article: African American Affairs 

Tough Conversations about Having a Tough Faith:  African American Young Adult Listening Sessions for the Journeying Together Process

By: Dr. Ansel Augustine, Executive Director of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, Archdiocese of Washington, DC

Dr. Ansel Augusine

“All of us are in need of personal and ongoing conversion.  Our churches and our civic and social institutions are in need of ongoing reform.  If racism is confronted by addressing its causes and the injustices it produces, then healing can occur.” This quote from Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, the USCCB’s latest Pastoral Letter discussing racism, discusses the struggle that many communities of color face inside the Church.  As someone who has ministered for over 20 years in Black Catholic, specifically African American Catholic, youth and young adult ministry, the effects of institutional racism, along with other factors, have been one of the many factors that have led to the exodus of Black Catholic young adults from the faith. 

The Journeying Together Process has helped more of our church leaders understand this issue from the mouths of some of the African American Catholic young adults themselves.  The listening sessions that have taken place, one of which is described in this article, share a glimpse of the unique struggles of being an African American young adult in the American Catholic Church and the struggle that those of us face that minister to, and with, this demographic.

On the evening of August 6, 2020, almost 100 African American Young Adults (ages 18-39 years old) from around the country gathered on an online listening session to discuss how they felt hurt by, and hopeful for, the Church.  They were joined by Bishop Fernand Cheri III (Archdiocese of New Orleans) and Bishop Roy Campbell (Archdiocese of Washington), along with several other ministry leaders, as they discussed the raw and “true truths,” as Sr. Thea Bowman used to say, about the struggles of being an African American Young Adult in today’s Catholic Church. 

James Conway (Archdiocese of Baltimore) and Stacy Allen (Archdiocese of Galveston/Houston) shared their testimonies of how their personal struggles have strengthened their faith, but also how they have personally witnessed the Church fail to meet the needs of their fellow African American Young Adults. 

The small group sessions, facilitated by several other African American Young Adults, continued the tough conversations about what has been done to cause pain and what needs to be done to begin healing among this demographic.  The results were not surprising for those of us who have worked in Black Catholic, specifically African American, youth/young adult ministry over the past couple of decades.

Some of the young adults voiced that this was the first time they actually felt heard and were part of majority rather than a minority, either by culture or age, in a Church setting.  The overall understanding is that we have work to do.  This Journeying Together process is creating opportunities to continue to engage in these tough conversations to gain hope from folks who have a tough faith.