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 | By Kiki Hayden | Correspondent

Drum Major for Justice: Deacon strives to stomp out ignorance

Deacon Frank Ashley III comes from a “long line of ministers” in the Baptist church. His grandfather and uncle were both pastors and served as his role models as a child.

“I try to be a role model for other people,” he said. In essence, his ministry is to be himself, be visible, and to be present to his community, especially reaching out to people of color and people from traditionally marginalized backgrounds.

In recognition of his efforts for justice, the Diocese of Austin recently presented Deacon Ashley with the Drum Major for Justice Award. Each year this award is presented to a member of the diocese whose work echoes the sentiments expressed in Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1968 sermon titled “The Drum Major Instinct.” King warns that the desire to be important can lead to sin, instead he encouraged servant leadership and loving others like Christ loves all.

Deacon Ashley said he is “totally honored and totally humbled,” by this honor.

“As a deacon, you don’t do things to get recognized,” he said.

Other than his experiences in his Baptist community, Deacon Ashley wasn’t exposed to many Black role models in leadership positions. “The first time I met someone like that was when I was getting my doctorate degree; there was an African American professor who I said, ‘Man, I’d really like to be like you.’”

After marrying his wife Janice, Deacon Ashley converted to Catholicism. He served as a lector and in pre-marriage ministry, then entered diaconate formation. In 2006, he was ordained a deacon in the Diocese of Dallas, where he was living at the time. Shortly after his ordination, Deacon Ashley moved back to College Station.

Deacon Ashley strives to be a drum major for justice as he reaches out to others. He frequently visits parishes within the Diocese of Austin because he believes it’s important for parishioners to “see an African American sitting up there” at the altar, serving and preaching — especially those who might not have imagined themselves in leadership positions.

Deacon Ashley, who serves at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station, also goes by another title. As Dr. Ashley, he serves as the acting dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. In this role, he makes a point to speak with first generation students “because I need to let them know … I am a first-generation student, I’m just like you. I came from a single parent family like a lot of you guys right here … I’m the Executive Dean in the Bush School of Government. Just like I’m in this position, you can be in this position.”

In both secular and religious spaces, Deacon Ashley has received push-back, but he tries to let the negativity be like “water off a duck’s back,” he said. His grandmother once told him, “Your role is to get out there and stomp out ignorance.”

Deacon Ashley’s faith, especially spending time in Eucharistic adoration, contemplating what Christ endured, and making pilgrimages to the Holy Land, has helped him to be assertive in a Christ-like way in the face of adversity.

“I go and sit in front of the Eucharist, and I get peace,” he said.

The 2024 Drum Major for Justice Award was presented during the diocesan commemoration of Martin Luther King on Jan. 13. Deacon Ashley was traveling in Singapore for work, so he was represented by his wife, son and sister-in-law as well as Deacon Dave Mayes, a fellow deacon serving at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.

Kiki Hayden has written for Catholic publications since 2019. She married into a Byzantine Catholic family and became Byzantine rite herself; she is a parishioner of St. Basil the Great Parish in Irving.