NORTH CHARLESTON—Young people from around the Southeast spent a weekend developing a brighter future at the 50th Gulf Coast District Conference of the Junior Division of the Knights of Peter Claver.
The Knights of Peter Claver is the largest historically black Catholic lay organization in the U.S. It is named after St. Peter Claver, a Spanish priest who ministered to African slaves. The organization’s junior division is open to Catholic youth ages 7-18.
The 50th conference took place June 8-10 at Embassy Suites, and drew more than 200 youth and adult leaders from the Gulf Coast District, which includes South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
“This weekend offers the young people a chance for spiritual enrichment, fellowship and a chance to develop their leadership skills,” said Pamela Simmons of Atlanta, who serves as district directress.
The schedule included a wide range of activities. Arts were the focus on the opening night, with poetry readings, drama, and dancing. On June 9, the youth elected officers and took part in workshops. There was a healthy dose of competition as well, with a spelling bee and a Quiz Bowl, where teams answered questions about the Catholic faith and the history of their organization.
The conference also includes a debate segment where teams discuss current events. This year’s topic was net neutrality and what it means for the future of the internet and its users.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone visited with the youth during the morning sessions on June 9. They also attended Mass held at St. Patrick Church in downtown Charleston, celebrated by Father Henry Kulah, with a festive banquet that evening.
Participants could also enter contests for everything from poster making and photography to science projects.
D’Asya Armstrong, 13, attends St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville and belongs to the Junior Division there. She entered the photography contest with a poster and special church fans that she made, featuring photos of sacred images from around her church along with photos of her friends acting out the conference theme, “Reach for the Stars.”
She picked a church fan as a display for her art because of its traditional role in the history of African- American and Southern churches.
“I’ve been taking pictures for about three years and I just have a lot of fun with it,” D’Asya said. “I like drawing as well and photography offers a different way of showing things.”
Naomi Bruce, 9, entered the science competition with a project that explored how to use organic dyes instead of chemical ones to make candy. Jessica Ann Victor, her mom, said she was interested in the topic because she’s allergic to the dyes used in many common candies, so the family has learned how to make their own at home.
“I told her that it isn’t enough to say you don’t like something,” Victor said. “I told her that if you don’t like something, put your mind to how you are going to change it.”
That kind of attitude is exactly what leaders of the Knights of Peter Claver hope the junior members take away from this conference.
“We hope this weekend helps them to build their confidence and leadership skills,” said Gulf Coast District Director Walter Leslie. “They get a chance to meet different people, to make new friends from different states and learn a lot of positive things that we hope they’ll use in the future.”
Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Members of a Quiz Bowl Team are ready to go during the Junior Division of the Knights of Peter Claver conference on June 9 in North Charleston.