National Black Catholic History Month was brought to a celebratory close on Nov. 24 when Holy Name of Jesus’ African American Cultural Awareness Ministry honored men who blazed the trail as the first African American deacons ordained in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Deacons Hosea Alexander (Holy Name of Jesus) and Emile Adams (St. Bernadette) — ordained in 1975 and 1979, respectively — were witnessed by fellow Deacons Charles Mitchell (St. Elizabeth, Altadena), Alfred Austin (Holy Name of Mary, San Dimas), Greg Patterson (Transfiguration), Douglass Johnson (Holy Name of Jesus), Mark Race (St. Bernadette, guest homilist) and a church filled with family, friends, and parishioners honoring them all at the 10 a.m. Mass.

“We know what we went through to get here,” remarked Deacon Race. “Our history still lives in us. Every community needs someone who remembers how it was.”

After the homily, each deacon was presented with a new stole, hand crafted by St. Anselm parishioner Belinda Benjamin.

Not present were honorees Deacons Peter Wilson (St. Rose of Lima, Simi Valley), Willard Hall (St. John the Evangelist, L.A.) and Frank Millholland (St. Albert the Great, Rancho Dominguez).

The theme of November’s activities was “Strong Men Keep Coming: Honoring Our African American Deacons and Encouraging Vocations in the Black and African American Communities.” It was inspired by poet Sterling Brown’s verse, “Strong Men” (1931).

“We believe that strong Black men are coming,” said Deacon Johnson, co-chair of the African American Awareness ministry. “We believe that they want to participate and find options for vocational service.” Honoring Black deacons, he said, upholds the ministry’s aim to raise awareness of African and African American gifts of history, culture and spirituality within and beyond the parish.

“It’s an honor to pay tribute to our African American Deacons who have humbly worked so diligently for this archdiocese,” said ministry co-chair Monica Lewis. “It is our hope, as we continue to [encourage] our African American men to become deacons, that the archdiocese will accept and support them with open arms, as it does with the many other cultures in the archdiocese.”

Vickie Race, wife of Deacon Race, called the event “an exciting day for recognition of African American deacons in the community, and the sacrament of matrimony as part of that community.” “I hope this day sparks some young people,” added Rita Austin, wife of Deacon Al Austin. “If they don’t want to be priests, they can still serve as married people. We look forward to future deacons and priests from the community.”

Other African American deacons served as homilists at Holy Name’s 10 a.m. Sunday Mass during November were Deacons Larry Palmer (Sacred Heart, Altadena, Nov. 3), resident Deacon Johnson (Nov. 10) and Deacon Wilson (Nov. 17). Each week’s Mass was followed by an Umoja Karamu, or “Unity Feast” (in the African Kiswahili language).

Sharon D. Johnson is certified in lector ministry and former editor of the AACCFE Newsletter. She holds a PhD in depth psychology and is a widely published journalist and member of the Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.