Blackmon cultivates social ministry in the diocese
By Michele Chan Santos
Fredron DeKarlos Blackmon — he goes by DeKarlos — has a warm smile, a kind heart and a passion for social justice, all of which suit him well for his new position as the director of Life, Charity and Justice for the Diocese of Austin.
Blackmon began his new job in August 2015, replacing Barbara Budde, who retired after nearly 15 years of service to the Austin Diocese.
In addition to his new position, Blackmon is completing his tenure as the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Peter Claver, which is the largest and oldest, predominantly black Catholic fraternal organization in the U.S. It was founded more than 100 years ago.
Blackmon has been the 16th Supreme Knight, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Knights of Peter Claver since 2010. In this role, he has promoted pro-life initiatives, including health care, quality of life, educational initiatives and community involvement throughout the country.
Blackmon moved to Austin from Huntsville, Ala., where he chaired the school board of the Diocese of Birmingham, and was a pastoral associate at St. Joseph Parish in Huntsville. His wife, Gracious Lady Kanobia Russell-Blackmon, is an executive producer at the NBC affiliate station in Huntsville.
In his role as Supreme Knight, Blackmon has been invited to the White House by President Barack Obama twice. He recounted a humorous story about the 2011 visit to the Easter Prayer Breakfast where he and Kanobia met President Obama:
“So I was walking into the White House with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington. As we rather easily proceeded through the layers of security by the Secret Service, I remarked to the cardinal, ‘Your Eminence, that was quicker than going through TSA at the airport.’ And the cardinal simply reminded me, ‘Supreme Knight. They already know who we are!’”
Who knew cardinals made jokes about the Secret Service and background checks?
Jokes aside, the Easter Prayer Breakfast brought together people from many different Christian faith traditions, to talk about “how religious organizations can work with government to bring about change,” Blackmon said. “We have to bring our faith to the public square.”
Blackmon and his wife were in the audience a few weeks ago when Pope Francis visited the White House.
“There were thousands of people there,” he said. He met both devout Catholics and people who were not Catholic, but who were drawn by the presence of Pope Francis.
“It was beautiful to listen to the Holy Father,” Blackmon said. “No matter what station in life we may find ourselves, Pope Francis invites us to be transformed by God’s mercy. Having attended the arrival ceremony at the White House and the Mass of Canonization of St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine, my life will be forever changed as the Holy Father gave a charge for me to keep: Go out to tell the Good News of Christ fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, and without condescension.”
Blackmon initially planned to become a priest, and studied at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, La. He holds master’s degrees in public management and in pastoral ministry. He has served in the U.S. Army Chaplains’ Corps, and is a Benedictine Oblate — a lay person formally associated with a Benedictine monastery.
After many years of living in Alabama, moving to Texas has been a significant change, but Blackmon welcomes the opportunity to serve in the Office of Life, Charity and Justice.
“Over the past five years, it seems that my life has been driven by the desire to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim spiritual liberty to prisoners and the oppressed. For the past couple of years, I have been discerning a change in my ministry focus from education, liturgy and pastoral music,” he said.
“Through my responsibilities as a national Catholic leader, I have consistently taken on the mantle of promoting peace, protecting life and ensuring justice. This is integral to our faith. For this reason, leading the Office of Life, Charity and Justice on behalf of the bishop of Austin perfectly allows me to serve the people of God with the heart and mind of the church.”
The biggest appeal of this new position, Blackmon said, is being able to “support and cultivate social ministry, social justice and societal development activities, together with parochial communities and public and private community organizations.”
He credits Budde for making the transition into her former job an easy one. “Barbara has been an amazing leader of social justice ministries. Gratefully, with her support and advice, I am able to capitalize on the great work she has done.”
Music is also a passion of his. For many years, he has served as director of liturgy and music in parishes, Protestant and Catholic. For now, he’s relishing the unfamiliar feeling of not having a musical commitment on Sunday mornings, simply attending Mass as an active participant and visiting different parishes. He regularly attends St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Pflugerville.
“Eventually, that may change,” he laughed, about singing from the pew instead of the lectern. “But not for a while.”
For more information on the Office of Life, Charity and Justice, call (512) 949- 2471 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.