by Donna Leslie
A group of youth on retreat had some free time indoors. Led by their chaperones-in-training, they formed a circle and began playing a game from their childhood called “Where the wind blows.”
Outside, summer storm clouds began hovering, and the rains came. A loud crack of lightning caused lights to flicker and temporarily, go out. Frightened teenagers, much to the amusement of their chaperones, ran for cover inside the McKenna Lounge at the Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington.
The storm would soon pass and the sky became peaceful. As the shining light of the half moon appeared, the youth once again formed in a circle. Again singing and playing songs from childhood — “We’re going to Kentucky! We’re going to the fair! To see the senorita with flowers in her hair. …”
Kujenga 2011 had begun!
Now in its 21st year in the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Kujenga Youth Leadership Conference is sponsored by the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns. Forty-four young people, representing parishes in Brooklyn and Queens, attended and focused on the Gospel of Matthew. This year’s theme was: “I am the Light of the World.”
Dwayne Davis, a 2005 Kujenga alumnus, who attends Immaculate Conception Seminary, is the coordinator of the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns’ Youth Leadership Ambassador Program and the Kujenga Youth Program.
Davis, who is scheduled to be ordained a priest in 2013, said, “The (Kujenga) team decided that we wanted to do something with light. We didn’t exactly know what, but we wanted to make use of light in one way or another.”
The light theme was emphasized thoroughout the weekend in prayer, workshops and activities.
“I’ve seen longer lines for confession this year than I’ve seen for years. I think every Kujengan went to confession,” said Davis. This was especially true after the group spoke about the importance of turning to God: turning to God in the Eucharist; turning to Jesus Christ in Confession; and saying with You, we can.
“We want everyone to think that they are the light of the world so that people can see the light through the way they act,” said Marilyn Jones, head chaperone and core team chair.
Kujenga was founded in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1977. The director of the diocese’s Office of Black Ministry in the late 1980s, Father Martin Carter, S.A., brought Kujenga to the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1989. The first retreat was held at Immaculate Conception Pastoral Center, Douglaston.
Since then, Kujenga has formed three core groups: the Ankh Group (ages 14 to 15), the Sankofa (16 to 17) and the Dove (17 to 18) by Georgeanne Campbell, Jeff Hicks, Angela Lewis and Julia Primas.
The first and last groups take their names form the Kujenga logo. The Sankofa is an Akan symbol of Ghana represented by a bird with its head turned backwards. The symbol of the Sankofa bird is associated with an African Proverb which says, “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, vicar of the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns, explained, “Each small group had an African name like the Ankh (a symbol of life) for the younger ones, the Sankofa for the middle group (symbolizing the necessity to be conscious of history) and the Dove for the older ones symbolizing the call of flying to the heights.
“The concern for black identity was a focus. We are living in a society where blacks are frequently looked upon as inferior. It is healthy for teenagers to accept themselves as who they are and to eliminate from their psyches any form of complex or alienation.”
Campbell, chairperson to the liaisons of the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns, expressed the importance of each group. “We wanted to make sure that each age group received specific information on leadership skills pertaining to their specific age group. Each group has specific objectives for their groups. They would have to make a promise on how they would better live Christian values. They are taught to respect Christ, the Blessed Mother, and develop a deep relationship with Jesus.”
She also gives great credit to Brother Stephen Gregory McMullen. She said that Brother Gregory’s presence gives strength to the weekend experience with his ‘life scenarios’ skits with the youth. Brother Gregory, who this year was the group leader for the Dove group, called Kujenga “a positive movement with the young people. It’s a leadership builder with the Catholic Church and our Christian faith.”
The first evening includede a welcome and orientation, dinner, sessions and introductions to family groups, and Eucharistic healing and adoration.
Day two included the Rosary led by Bishop Sansaricq, and a Giant Thinking session. Led by Hassan (a.k.a. ‘G.I.A.N.T’) Bradley and his group Bartendaz, Inc. Giant Thinking has been a part of the retreat for the past 10 years, and is a favorite of participants. Giant Thinking/Bartentaz combines physical fitness and a hard talk about the lessons of life. Bishop Sansaricq called it “a great teaching about the importance of sports and spirituality.” The youth also went on a scavenger hunt, which included identifying some of the treasures on the seminary grounds.
The afternoon also offered a lesson in community service. The young people were given the task of constructing care packages for the homeless. Each youth was given a wash cloth into which they sewed pockets. Into each pocket, they put toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, etc.). Each packet was then folded and placed into a gift bag. When completed, packets were sent to homeless shelters in Brooklyn and Queens. The idea was conceived by Nancy Saldana, a Kujenga chaperone.
Sunday began with the youth, now formally dressed, attending morning praise in the Crypt Chapel. The young people held candles of light.
The Eucharistic liturgy included the Kujenga ritual ceremony and the rite of passage. In a rousing sermon, Father Caleb Buchanan, coordinator of the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns, encouraged them to seek ‘light’ on their journey through life. “The devil is busy. The devil is real. And, (in) his desire to attack and destroy, he loves to covet young people. Dangerous! Because you will walk out of here, and that boyfriend or girlfriend who is the drama of your life, will ring up that cell phone, on the way to the bus, and say something ignorant and stupid to take away the Gospel, freedom, and joy that you got from this weekend. If they do that, get a new boyfriend and get a new girlfriend! Find someone in your life who is Jesus…the light of the world!”
Father Buchanan closed by saying, “There are ancestors above us. They are looking down on you right now. And my God, they are so proud of you.
“And as they look down, they are saying ‘Listen, we’ve made it. We walked four moments in the sun. We’re with you, as you walk those four moments. And don’t forget, we are with you! We are rooting for you and you are going to win.’ Because in you, Jesus, the greatest of our brothers, the greatest of our ancestors, in you, shines the light of the world.”