Churches have historically fulfilled their role as houses of worship very well, but they have always been much more in the Black community. Part community center, part sanctuary from the vicissitudes of life in a nation that sees people of color as second-class citizens, churches are increasingly becoming venues to share the rich cultural heritage of Africans in America as well.

This year marks the first African Diaspora Summer Film series at the historic Riverside Church. The festival will feature more than a dozen films, both foreign and domestic, documentaries as well as works of fiction-all reflecting the breadth and depth of the experience of the Diaspora. The 250 Theater at Riverside Church hosts the festival.

Founded in 1993, the African Diaspora Film Festival has brought hundreds of films from the Diaspora to New York, enriching the cultural landscape and giving these works of art a wider audience. In addition to the regularly featured screenings, this summer festival will feature family-friendly films each Sunday at 3 p.m. to give younger audience members a chance to see the world beyond their neighborhoods.

This year’s selections include a light “100% Arabica,” which spans Europe and Africa as members of a music group use their art to conquer the racism they experience in Paris. “Boy Called Twist” is an ingenious South African adaptation of the classic Dickens novel “Oliver Twist” and features a wonderful soundtrack. “Following Bliss” is one of Brooklyn’s entries into the festival. Directed by Cleve Lamison, it explores the tribulation a couple endures as they discover they have vastly different ideas of happiness. These and many other distinctive films make this first summer film festival an event not to be missed.

The African Diaspora Summer Film Series runs through Aug. 27 at Riverside Church, located at 91 Claremont Ave. between 120th and 122nd streets, in Manhattan. For more information about the films and for showtimes, visit www.nyadff.org/RiversideTheatre2006.html or call (212) 870-6784.