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'Black in America' documentary deals with Black church and economy

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:23 p.m.

CNN is premiering its latest installment in the famed "Black in America" series on Thursday night. The documentary, titled "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," puts the spotlight on the Black church and its role during the financial crisis.

The 90-minute documentary centers on the 7,000-member First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J., and the church's pastor, Dr. DeForest Soaries. Cameras follow members of his congregation on their journey through the trials of their financial problems.

"Almighty Debt" not only highlights the plight of the economic crisis, but also shows the economy's crippling affects on the Black community. Topics range from basic financial education, fiscal responsibility, unemployment and foreclosure.

Three stories are the focus of the documentary, including a dedicated church couple who built their dream home but, due to job loss, is over two years behind in mortgage payments; a youth struggling to find a way to pay his way through college; and a 52-year-old man who lost his corporate job and is struggling to find work.

Members worship together and find ways to combat the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, O'Brien conducts a series of interviews while each story unfolds, outlining the link between social issues and its relation to the Black church.

Following the documentary, a town hall discussion moderated by O'Brien will feature Soaries; the chief pastor of the Potter's House, Rev. T.D. Jakes; clinical social worker and public relations executive Terrie Williams; syndicated columnist Michelle Singletary; and political pollster Cornell Belcher.

A preview of the documentary was recently shown at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, where O'Brien led a panel discussion with Soaries; Rev. Dr. Jesse T. Williams Jr. of Convent Avenue Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. A.R. Bernard of the Christian Cultural Center; and Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake of the Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral.

"We wanted to focus on the Black church and its massive importance in the Black community," O'Brien told the AmNews during an interview. "We thought it would be timely."

O'Brien added that while the first two "Black in America" documentaries were done in survey format, this was the first one that used a profile format. The documentary also mentions the institution of slavery for the first time, referencing that having debt is similar to being in bondage, as mentioned by Soaries.

"In this documentary, we are focusing on one pastor and one church," she said. "The implications are for the general public. This is an American story. When we were doing this, people were very generous with us because debt is something that we don't talk about. We want the truth and honesty to have the ability to draw you in to people's personal struggles."

Meanwhile, Jakes invited Williams to be a special guest at the Woman, Thou Art Loosed conference in Dallas, Texas. The conference runs Thursday through Saturday, October 21 to 23. The theme is "On the Cutting Edge." Williams will share her personal testimony and highlights from her critically acclaimed book, "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting," at a 10 a.m. conference session on Friday morning, October 22, to be followed by a book signing. For more information, visit www.wtal.org.

"Almighty Debt: A Black America Special" will air this Thursday, October 21 at 9 p.m. on CNN.