Habari Gani or “What’s the News?” is a question that Christians worldwide are called to seek and evangelize in their daily lives. Thanks to Habari Gani, a retreat held annually for African-American youth through the CYO Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, this question is being answered. “The news is the good news that has been passed on to us by our ancestors,” explained Kevin Coleman, a retreat co-coordinator. The youth ministry office recognized a need for a retreat tailored to African-American youth and adopted the nationwide initiative, Habari Gani Retreat. Since then, five retreats have been held, including the most recent April 12-14 at Camp Abbey Retreat Center in Covington.
Habari Gani’s theme, “Reigniting the Fire of Our Faith,” is centered on “teaching the young people to take the ownership of their faith as our own,” said Ansel Augustine, CYO associate director, coordinator of Black Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Habari Gani.
A development team designed this retreat to build strong leadership skills, instill self-esteem and reinforce the call of discipleship through a black spiritual perspective. Faith is gained in a college-like atmosphere where teens select courses, including an introductory core course focusing on Catholic Church theology and black Catholic Church history and electives such as spirituality and practical living skills.
Upon arrival, youth are split into families and select a family name and motto using West African Adinkra symbols. These families bond by retreat’s end, Bennetta Cannon Horne, a development team member and Habari Gani leader, said.
It is early rising on the second day for retreatants, with a sunrise prayer service dedicated to an ancestor.
The rest of the day the youth attend core courses and electives, culminating in a commissioning and commencement ceremony.
“The youth are anointed and charged with the task of being a leader and passing that leadership on to others,” Coleman said about the commissioning. “Because they now have a personal responsibility, they are more likely to evaluate where they are in life and make changes where necessary.”
By retreat’s end Sunday morning with Mass, youth do not want to leave.
“When they get there, they don’t know why they are there,” Augustine said. “But, by the time Sunday afternoon comes, they don’t want to go home.”
Retreatants are encouraged to take the skills learned at Habari Gani to become leaders in their churches, homes, schools and every aspect of their lives. Augustine explained that many Habari Gani retreatants return to serve as leaders, while others take key roles in archdiocesan ministries and various organizations.
Overall, the retreat strives to foster leadership skills and instill self-worth into teens.
“We feel there is enough of society tearing them down and telling them what they’re not good at and what they’re not going to be,” Horne said. “We spend the whole weekend telling them what’s right with them and what they can do. We just show them what they already have within them and enhance it and encourage them.”
Lindsey Frechou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.