Tony Jones
Tony Jones
SCAPPOOSE — Unflinching sober realism blended with hope-filled trust in God.

Brother-to-brother vulnerability.

Motivation and strength to do the work of speaking and acting on behalf of equality, human dignity, healing and reconciliation — in the church and in the world — as men of God in unity.

Devotional prayer, including a “Rosary for Liberation & Healing of the Black Community” and spontaneous praise and worship filled with the harmonies of the African American musical heritage.

Liturgical prayer, including a Mass with reverence for Catholic tradition and with exuberance in the priest’s preaching and the people’s participation.

Those experiences were among the elements that made the 2020 National Black Catholic Men’s Conference meaningful and memorable for participants and speakers. The African American Catholic Community of Oregon generously contributed my registration for this year’s first-ever virtual conference and my first NBCMC.

One of the participants in the late October three-day virtual event was Tony Jones, president of the AACCO. Jones’ first conference was last year, an in-person gathering in Los Angeles.

He said he sensed “more anguish” in some presentations and comments this year. That made sense, he thought, because of all that’s changed since last fall. The strain flowed naturally during the Saturday morning session which included the Rosary for Liberation & Healing and the keynote, “Healing from Racial Battle Fatigue.”

But the honest expression of weariness was a source of the hope, healing, and determination that the conference organizers wanted the event to produce, Jones said.

One source of a blessed surprise for Jones and me was a physician who spoke in a panel discussion, “Black America—The Double Pandemic [Covid-19 and Systemic Racism].” Curiosity over the doctor’s name, General C. Johnson, led to an online search which revealed he’s a Portland Community College administrator and teacher and a professor in the OSU–OHSU School of Public Health.

A first-time participant in the conference, he came to the organizers’ attention because he’d looked into an affiliated Black Catholic Studies program, he explained. His interest in that program is part of a long-held yearning that he’d already been fulfilling by enrolling in the RCIA at Immaculate Heart Parish in North Portland.

He watched most of the conference — livestreamed and pre-recorded. It was his first time “to be with other men of color to pray and to speak of our experience.”

“First and foremost,” he said, it deepened his realization that, “We need God and we need each other to do the work … of breaking down divisions and bridging gaps that cause ignorance and perpetuate disdain for ‘the Other.’ It was fantastic.”

Similarly, Tony Jones said, “I’m very proud of [the organizers’] efforts. I’m very glad they went ahead and put it on virtually, responding to the situation we’re facing. I’m getting ideas about what we as the AACCO might do with technology.”

The annual conference has been put on by the Bowman-Francis Ministry Team since 2004. This organization describes its mission as ministry “across the [African] Diaspora to Black Catholics, placing great emphasis on youth and young adults [and] evangelization. Our goal is to spiritually recharge Afrocentric communities by renewing interest, commitment and devotions within the Roman Catholic Church.”

The ministry’s name honors three prominent 20th-Century African American Catholics, all deceased: Bishop Joseph Francis and Father John Bowman, both of the Society of the Divine Word; and Sr. Thea Bowman, of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Her cause for canonization advanced with a designation as “Servant of God” in June, 2018.