black history

Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, stands next to an image of the Black Madonna with child after the Mass marking the start of Black Catholic History Month, which was celebrated Nov. 6, 2021 at St. Bartholomew Church in Miramar.

MIRAMAR  |  South Florida’s African diaspora is well represented at St. Bartholomew Parish. Its diverse population includes Nigerians, Haitians, Jamaicans, Bahamians, Barbadians, and people of other nationalities.

That is why the annual Mass to kick off Black Catholic History Month was celebrated at the Miramar church on Nov. 6, 2021.

This is Black Catholic History Month, where we take the time to celebrate and recognize our ancestors for their achievements. We celebrate our traditions, we celebrate our founders, our people of the African diaspora,” said Katrenia Reeves-Jackman, director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry. “It’s a matter of taking the opportunity to acknowledge who we are. We are Black and we are Catholics, and that sometimes seems to be an anomaly to some people. They don’t even know that there are Black Catholics.”

The annual celebration of Black Catholic history began in 1990, an initiative of the National Black Catholic Clergy Conference.

“St. Martin de Porres’ feast day falls in November — and that’s one reason they chose November,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski said in his homily. “Black Catholics have always been making history — but too often the contributions of Black Catholics have been overlooked and forgotten.”

The Mass was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry, which works with the Black community at large to propagate the faith.

“For me, it was very important to be here to witness this Mass considering the fact that my school is predominantly an African-American school with a great representation of the Haitian community,” said Christine Gonzalez, principal of St. Bartholomew School. “It’s important that people realize that the Catholic ministry and people involved in the Catholic mission are very diverse. It’s very important that we recognize the diversity within the Catholic Church, especially in south Florida.”

The Mass included joyful music led by the Office of Black Catholic Ministry Choir, which includes parishioners from St. Philip Neri, Holy Redeemer, St. Helen, St. Anthony, and Visitation churches.

“Music is a means for sharing culture and for celebrating the historical musical traditions of Black people, be they Haitian, be they African, be they African American. In all Black cultures, music is the means through which we tell the story of our faith,” said Donald Edwards, associate superintendent of schools in the archdiocese.

“In celebrating Black Catholic History Month, let’s remember some of the great pioneers in this community,” said Archbishop Wenski. He named Joe Lang Kershaw, who served in Tallahassee in the legislature for many years, and Athalie Range, a long-time civic activist in Miami.

“She and her husband integrated the beaches here in south Florida in the early 1960s,” said the archbishop. “They helped build highways of justice because of their Catholic faith. But today we have Black Catholics of the caliber of Dr. Donald Edwards, assistant superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, Judge Marcia Cooke, a U.S. District Circuit Judge, and Tamara Lawson, dean of St. Thomas University’s School of Law. The faith informs their engagement in the world — and for the world.”

Although this year’s celebration was tamped down because of the ongoing pandemic, the Office of Black Catholic Ministry was planning other events throughout November. One of them is an essay contest for students in Catholic schools focusing on Black Catholic history; and a second Mass planned for Nov. 20 at St. Hugh Church in Coconut Grove.

The events serve as a reminder and celebration of the contributions of Black Catholics to the Church.

“We have a theme we always say: We are Catholics, yesterday, today and tomorrow,” said Reeves-Jackman. “We look at our past, we look at our faith, we have gifts to give to the Catholic Church.”

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