SC African American churches using gardens to address food insecurity

SC African American churches using gardens to address food insecurity

The Rev. Andre Thornhill and his daughter, Abigail, plant seeds at the new community garden near Ebenezer AME Church in Linvolnville.

LINCOLNVILLE — An early model of self-sufficiency in the African American community, this historic town is now the launch site for what organizers hope becomes a national initiative to address food insecurity.

Balm in Gilead, a Virginia-based nonprofit, is partnering with Ebenezer AME Church in Lincolnville to establish a community garden that is part of its Food Security Project across South Carolina. The effort already has 17 churches across the state that have expressed interest, and organizers hope to extend the effort outside South Carolina. 

The nonprofit’s founder, Dr. Pernessa Seele, said the goal is to provide fruits and vegetables to the community, which was founded by freed slaves and a place where people long grew their own foods.

Lincolnville is also considered a “food desert,” a place with limited access to healthy foods.

“Nobody thinks of it as a food desert because you can get to Piggly Wiggly (in Summerville) in 10 minutes,” said Seele, an immunologist. “There are no fresh foods and veggies in the town.”

That limited food access is a long way from the town’s earlier days, when residents operated farms. Seele, who’s from the town, recalls her family’s farmland that included pigs and goats.

The community garden near Ebenezer AME will be a step toward providing people with affordable access to healthy foods, Seele said. This is especially important because organic foods are getting more expensive, she said.

“We have to get back to our ancestors’ way of living in terms of growing our food,” Seele said.

The Lincolnville site launched April 10 when several dozen people gathered outside the historic church building to celebrate the construction of the 3,750-square-foot garden and plant the site’s first seeds.

The land will grow okra, squash, zucchini, watermelon, cantaloupe, and other fruits and vegetables. The garden is named the Bishop Richard Harvey Cain Community Garden after the faith leader who founded the town.

The property is at 112 Dunmeyer Hill Road, which is owned by Seele and near the church.

The Rev. Andre Thornhill, pastor of Ebenezer AME, said the church welcomes anyone who wants to volunteer to care for the land. Ebenezer plans to partner with the nearby Ladson Elementary School as a way to teach younger people how to grow their own food.

“We’re allowing anyone to come help us garden,” he said.

Project organizers see this effort as a way to improve the health of people in the community, noting Lincolnville has one of the highest rates of hypertension and diabetes in the state.

The town’s founders were in better physical shape because they ate organic foods, Thornhill said.

“There was no supermarket,” Thornhill said. “You had to grow it yourself. Our people were healthier then because of it.”

Lincolnville maintains a rich history.

The small town was founded in 1867 by freed Blacks shortly after the Civil War. Cain, also a state representative, worked with others to purchase land to establish the town that would be named after President Abraham Lincoln.

Cain founded Ebenezer AME at the town’s center.

The descendants of the founders would become a tight-knit community that prioritized church, education and Black history.

Seele is one of those descendants. She grew up in the town, where she learned the importance of understanding her heritage. She launched a successful career as CEO of Balm in Gilead, which partners with faith-based groups to prevent diseases and improve the health status of individuals who are disproportionately affected by high rates of health disparities.

Though her career has taken her to New York and Virginia, Seele felt it important to launch a community-minded effort in her hometown.

“The most important thing about me is I’m from Lincolnville,” she said.


Original Article:

Hereditary ATTR-CM: A Serious and Often Underdiagnosed Cause of Heart Failure in Black/African Americans

Hereditary ATTR-CM: A Serious and Often Underdiagnosed Cause of Heart Failure in Black/African Americans

Former NBA player and coach and heart failure patient Don Chaney, who was diagnosed with hereditary ATTR-CM in 2019

By: Dr. Kevin Williams, Chief Medical Officer, Rare Disease, Pfizer

Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at the Balm in Gilead Healthy Churches 2030 Annual Conference alongside former NBA player and coach and heart failure patient Don Chaney. Don and I are both passionate about educating people about transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy or ATTR-CM, a disease that Don was diagnosed with in 2019.

ATTR-CM is a serious and often undiagnosed condition that affects the heart and is associated with heart failure. As the Chief Medical Officer for Pfizer’s Rare Disease Business Unit, I spent a lot of time studying this condition and the impact it has on patients and their families, and so together, Don and I sat down with Balm in Gilead members to talk about this condition and Don’s own journey to diagnosis.

In Don’s case, he has a specific type of ATTR-CM, one that is genetic, or passed down, and one that is more likely to affect African Americans. With April being National Minority Health Month, I thought now was the perfect opportunity to continue to raise awareness of this disease, reshare Don’s story, and encourage Black/African Americans with heart failure to talk to their doctors if they’re experiencing any symptoms associated with ATTR-CM.  

What’s ATTR-CM?

The liver makes a protein called transthyretin (or TTR). For people with ATTR-CM, this protein changes shape, or “misfolds.” Over time, the misfolded proteins can collect in the heart and can build up in different parts of the body. This causes the heart muscle to thicken and stiffen, eventually leading to heart failure and other symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the arms and lower legs. There are two main subtypes of ATTR-CM:

  • Wild-type: The subtype associated with aging, which most often affects white/Caucasian men over the age of 60.
  • Hereditary: the subtype Don has, which is passed down from a relative and caused by a gene mutation. The most common mutation associated with hereditary ATTR-CM in the US, known as V122I, is found almost exclusively in African Americans. Approximately 3% to 4% of African Americans are thought to have the V122I mutation, although not all individuals with the V122I mutation develop symptoms of hereditary ATTR-CM.

Don’s Story: A Long Road to the Right Diagnosis

Don had been experiencing frequent heart-related symptoms, including fatigue, palpitations, and shortness of breath for a few years. Knowing his mother and grandmother both passed away from heart disease, he underwent several tests and procedures, until he was finally diagnosed with heart failure. But that wasn’t the full story.

For about 10 years before that, Don had also suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, knee pain and swelling in his hands and feet. He just assumed his symptoms were caused by years of playing professional basketball. He never made the connection that these symptoms could be related to his heart, and therefore, never mentioned that part of his medical history to his doctor. After speaking with his cardiologist, Don learned that some symptoms of ATTR-CM can mimic more common symptoms of heart failure, while other symptoms may not typically be associated with a heart condition. For Don, and many others, this often leads to a delayed or incorrect diagnosis, especially since even some doctors are unfamiliar with ATTR-CM.

Hereditary ATTR-CM is a Family Matter

Don has worked closely with his cardiologist to manage his hereditary ATTR-CM and his wife, Jackie, also plays an important role. As his caregiver and advocate, Jackie helped Don navigate his journey to diagnosis, and once his ATTR-CM was confirmed, she ensured Don took immediate steps to address it and get on a treatment plan.

After he was diagnosed, Don also spoke with his three adult children, sisters, and brothers about getting genetic testing and counseling to find out if they might also have the gene mutation that causes hereditary ATTR-CM. Several followed his advice, and as a result, one of his family members found out she also has the gene mutation, so now she is closely monitoring any symptoms of hereditary ATTR-CM with the help of a cardiologist.

What You Can Do About ATTR-CM

If you’re Black/African American, experiencing seemingly unrelated signs and symptoms (eg, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, shortness of breath, carpal tunnel syndrome) or have a family history of cardiac issues, and have been diagnosed with heart failure, talk to your primary care doctor or an experienced cardiologist. Whether they seem related or not, it’s important to share all of your symptoms. This will allow your doctor to get a full picture of your past and current medical history to help make an appropriate diagnosis.

If you need some help, here are some great questions to help you start the conversation with your doctor:

  • Based on my symptoms, medical history, and family history, do you think ATTR-CM could be the cause of my heart failure?
  • Do you have experience diagnosing ATTR-CM, or can you recommend a local specialist?
  • Do I need additional tests to confirm my diagnosis? If so, whom at your office should I speak with, and will the results of my test impact my treatment plan?
  • How quickly could this condition progress?
  • I understand this condition expresses itself in a variety of ways. Should I seek additional specialists to be a part of my care team?
  • Are there any resources you recommend for emotional and mental support or additional information on ATTR-CM?
  • If ATTR-CM is determined to be the cause of my heart failure, what options are available to help manage my condition?

So, what’s next after you’ve been diagnosed? Each person’s experience is unique, but genetic testing and counseling are recommended as directed by your doctor to find out if you have the hereditary type. If you do, it’s important to notify your family members, like Don did – especially siblings and adult children – as they could be at risk for the disease.

For more information about hereditary ATTR-CM and resources that can help you discuss symptoms with your doctor, visit You can also learn more about Don and Jackie’s story, from their recent interview with Dr. Seele on Dr. P on the Podcast.





Content sponsored and provided by Pfizer Inc.
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Announcing the opening of the Bishop Richard H. Cain Community Garden in Lincolnville, SC

Announcing the opening of the Bishop Richard H. Cain Community Garden in Lincolnville, SC

LINCOLNVILLE, SC (April 9, 2021) — A group of nonprofits and members of the Lincolnville community will host the launch of the African American Church Community Garden and Food Security Project on April 10, 2021. This project aims to strengthen the collective power of Black churches of various denominations to establish an equitable food system for their local communities across the state of SC. Launching in Lincolnville, SC because of the town’s long history of Black empowerment dating back to its founding in the late 1860s, this inaugural garden will be named the Bishop Richard Harvey Cain Community Garden after the faith leader who founded the town. Bishop Cain also founded Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the host church for the launch of the project, after purchasing a large tract of farmland together with a group of other Black leaders from Charleston. 

 The African American Church Community Garden and Food Security Project is an initiative of The Balm In Gilead, a national organizations based in Richmond, VA. The Office of Health Disparities Research Mayo Clinic has joined with the Balm In Gilead and The Black Church Food Security Network, a project partner, to support the evaluation components of the initiative. 

Bishop Samuel Green, Sr., Presiding Prelate of the 7th Episcopal District of the AME Church; Rev. Dr. Kylon Middleton Charleston County Councilman, District #6;  Rev. George E. McKain, Director of Public Affairs & Social Concerns, of the AME Zion Church; participating faith leaders from across the state; political leaders and members of the Town of Lincolnville  will join hands to plant the first seeds of the Bishop Richard Harvey Cain Community Garden.


The Launch of the African American Church Community Garden and Food Security Project-SC and the opening of the Bishop Richard H. Cain Community Garden


Ebenezer AME Church, Host Church, in partnership with The Balm in Gilead, the Black Church Food Security Network, and the Lincolnville Preservation & Historical Society



Saturday, April 10, 2021 at 10:00 am


Location on the Parcel of Land: 112 Dunmeyer Hill Road, Lincolnville, SC Event will be held outdoors in accordance with CDC-recommended guidelines, including the practice of social distancing and masks worn by  participants and guests.

About The Balm In Gilead 

Celebrating 32 years of service, The Balm In Gilead works to prevent diseases and improve the health status of individuals by providing support to faith-based and other institutions in areas of

program design, implementation and evaluation. This support strengthens their capacity to deliver programs and services that contribute to the elimination of health disparities among African Americans.

Description of The Black Church Food Security Network 

The Black Church Food Security Network strengthens and establishes economic ventures that supply every part of the food system by utilizing an asset-based approach in organizing and linking the vast resources of historically African American congregations and Black farmers in rural and urban areas.

African American Church Community Garden and Food Security Project in South Carolina

African American Church Community Garden and Food Security Project in South Carolina

Working together, The Balm In Gilead Inc. and The Black Church Food Security Network is launching The African American Church Community Project and Food Security Project – SC. The African American Church Community Project – SC is designed to support faith leaders and congregations who understand our urgent need to work together to address the high rates of poverty, lack of fresh produce, food deserts, and food insecurities in our communities.  

With over 50 years of collective experience in building and strengthening the capacity of Black Churches to become community hubs of health promotion and disease prevention, the organizations will lead community efforts in South Carolina to change health behaviors that often result in high death rates due to preventable diseases. Ebenezer AME Church in Lincolnville, South Carolina will serve as the national model for the initiative. 

On Feburary 1, 2021, Dr. Pernessa Seele, Founder and CEO of The Balm In Gilead, Inc, offered the use of her land to Ebenezer AME Church to plant a community garden. The garden will be located at 112 Dunmeyer Hill Road in Lincolnville. The Garden will be named Bishop Richard Harvey Cain Community Garden, in honor of Reverend Richard Harvey Cain, one of the town’s 1867 founders. Rev. Andre Thornhill, Ebenezer AME Church pastor, has done a brilliant job getting the project off the ground.

Dr. Seele chronicled the journey and the process of bringing the African American Church Community Project and Food Security Project – SC to fruition.

The Original Property (Around 2/10) 

2/15: I visited the land in Lincolnville. Some clearing had begun. I decided that we should expand the clearing area to accommodate community folk coming to work in the garden as well as sitting and enjoying the breeze. The birth of name: Bishop Richard Harvey Cain Community Garden.

Beginning 2/27: The property clearing was expanded to approximately ½ – ¾ acre.

We found the porch of the house and the well. Built in the 1800’s. I spent many days on this porch in the 50s & 60s.

3/14: Brother Robinson came with his tractor and tilled the soil.

3/14: The community garden has rows for planting.

Now we can see!

  • This is a huge area for the first year of The folks will decide this week how much area will actually be used.
  • The area for the community sitting and event on April 10 will also be allotted this

The soil will be tested this week to prepare for seeding.

Seeding is scheduled to begin on April 10 as a part of the launching event. A diagram on the community garden is attached.

About The Balm In Gilead 

Celebrating 32 years of service, The Balm In Gilead works to prevent diseases and improve the health status of individuals by providing support to faith-based and other institutions in areas of

program design, implementation and evaluation. This support strengthens their capacity to deliver programs and services that contribute to the elimination of health disparities among African Americans.

Description of The Black Church Food Security Network 

The Black Church Food Security Network strengthens and establishes economic ventures that supply every part of the food system by utilizing an asset-based approach in organizing and linking the vast resources of historically African American congregations and Black farmers in rural and urban areas.

African American Church Community Garden and Food Security Project
In South Carolina

Participating Churches 

Ebenezer AME Church
Rev. Andre Thornhill, Pastor
Lincolnville, SC

Live Oak AME Church
Rev. Fedrick Allen Wilson, Pastor
Vance, SC

Browns Chapel AME Zion Church
Rev. Otha Smith, Pastor
Lowrys, SC

Metropolitan AME Zion Church
Rev. Angela Boyd, Pastor
Chester, SC

St. John Missionary Baptist Church
Pastor John T. Brown, Pastor
Sharon, SC

Saint Luke Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. Persell Ross, Jr., Pastor
Sharon, SC

Rock Grove AME Zion Church
Rev. Titus Thorn, Pastor
Rock Hill, SC

Greater Unity AME Zion Church
Rev. Randolph Miller, Pastor
Hickory Hill, SC



Shiloh AME Church
Rev. Eugene Collins, Pastor
Edisto Island, SC

El Bethel AME Church
Rev. Ronnie McCrorey, Pastor
Indian Land, SC

The Life Center Cathedral
Bishop Brian D. Moore, Pastor
North Charleston, SC

Robinson AME Zion Church
Rev. Jeret Fite, Pastor
Cheraw. SC

Greater Unity AME Zion Church
Rev. George McKain, Pastor
Sharon, SC

Bunton CME Church
Rev. Cassandry Keys, Pastor
Spartenburg, SC

Pleasant Grove AME Zion Church
Rev. Ron Miller, Pastor
Cheraw, SC

Brookland Baptist Church
Dr. Charles Jackson, Pastor
Cayce, SC


What Is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)? Know the Signs and Reduce Your Risk

What Is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)? Know the Signs and Reduce Your Risk

Dr. Richard E. Browne, MD, FACC*

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.? Approximately 650,000 people die from it every year.1 February is Heart Health Month in the U.S. and I’d like to use this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of prevention and proper screening in the fight against heart disease.

There are several risk factors that put people at risk of heart disease, including2:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet

African Americans are more likely to have one or more of these risk factors – for example, high blood pressure affects more than 40% of African Americans, which is 10-12% higher than for non-Hispanic white or Mexican Americans. This in turn means that African Americans are disproportionately affected by heart disease. While this increased risk has been known about for a long time, the amount of heart disease in the African American community remains high. It is one of the key reasons for life expectancy being lower in African Americans than in white Americans.3

The Heart/Leg Connection

Heart disease is related to a process called atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup, which makes it hard for blood to flow.4 This condition also causes Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), which is a common type of vascular disease that occurs when narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to the limbs, most often the legs.2 Many patients may not know they have PAD.2 Despite affecting nearly 20 million Americans, only approximately 8.5 million are diagnosed with it.5,6 PAD can put you at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke, and lead to complications including death and limb amputation.2,3 This is why it is crucial for patients to be screened for PAD.

Most of the risk factors I mentioned above are also linked to PAD.2 These risk factors are disproportionately seen in African Americans and as a result, African Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to have PAD.3, 7 While the outcomes of PAD can be serious, early detection and getting the right care can improve those outcomes.2

The signs and symptoms of PAD can vary, but common symptoms to look out for include2:

  • Pain while walking
  • Leg pain
  • Poor nail growth
  • Fatigue in the legs
  • Skin problems or discoloration on your legs and feet
  • Wounds to the legs and feet that are slow to heal

However, some patients may have the disease and not experience any symptoms, which is why it’s so important to be screened for PAD if you’re at risk of the disease.2 While leg pain (also known as claudication) is known to be the classic symptom of PAD, 4 in 10 people with the disease don’t experience that.8 African Americans have a higher prevalence of asymptomatic PAD, meaning that even though they may have the disease, they may not experience leg pain or other symptoms.6 Without these warning signs, there is a greater risk of patients experiencing a delay in receiving the care they need and continuing to carry out behaviors that put them at a higher risk for PAD, such as smoking and lack of exercise.2

Managing PAD

In my experience, most people don’t understand how easy the process of screening for PAD is. Even though some people may not experience symptoms, your doctor can identify signs of PAD through a physical exam, such as a weak or absent pulse below a narrowed area of your artery, listening for “whooshing” sounds over arteries by using a stethoscope, or looking at wounds to see if there is evidence of poor healing in areas where your blood flow is restricted. Your doctor can also use a simple screening test called the ankle-brachial index (ABI). This test involves taking your socks off so your doctor can examine your legs and feet, and then taking your blood pressure in your arm and both ankles. Talking to your doctor about whether you should get screened for PAD, or if anyone in your family has or has ever had PAD, is a great first step towards managing the disease. Importantly, your doctor can also help you identify medications and healthy lifestyle choices that may help reduce your risk of complications or PAD.

As a cardiologist who has been in the field for more than 20 years, I believe that it is crucial for patients and physicians to have an ongoing dialogue, working together to manage health holistically and helping to prevent diseases such as PAD by identifying the signs and symptoms early and by screening appropriate patients. There are several ways to reduce your risk of the disease. These include exercise, quitting smoking, a healthy diet, and taking good care of your feet. However, every patient is different, which is why it’s so important to work with your doctor to identify prevention strategies that work best for you.

This month, I encourage you to learn more about the signs and symptoms of PAD and talk to your doctor about screening and prevention.

*Richard Browne, MD, is a cardiologist with more than 20 years of experience. He graduated with honors from Boston University School of Medicine and completed his internship and medical residency at Harvard Medical School. He then did a cardiology fellowship at the University of Virginia, where he served as the chief cardiology fellow. Currently, Dr. Browne practices at Pure Cardiology in Charlotte, NC, and is a council member for the North Carolina Chapter of the American College of Cardiology. This article was developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in collaboration with Dr. Browne. He is a paid consultant for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. Available at: Accessed January 19, 2021.
  2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Peripheral Artery Disease. Available at: Accessed January 19, 2021.
  3. Carnethon MR, Pu J, Howard G, et al. A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association. Cardiovascular Health in African Americans. Available at: Accessed January 19, 2021.
  4. American Heart Association. What is Cardiovascular Disease? Available at: Accessed January 19, 2021.
  5. Racial Disparities in Vascular Care. Available at: Accessed January 19, 2021.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). Available at: Accessed January 19, 2021.
  7. Ghidei W, Collins TC. African Americans and Peripheral Arterial Disease: A Review Article. International Scholarly Research Notices. 2012;165653:1-9.
  8. Virani SS, Alonso A, Benjamin EJ, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2020 update: a report from the American Heart Associationexternal icon. Circulation. 2020;141(9):e139-e596.


PBS and WETA Announce New Documentary Series from Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG to Air February 16 and 17, 2021 at 9:00 p.m. ET (check local listings)

Two-part seriesreveals the broad history and culture of the Black church and explores African American faith communities on the frontlines of hope and change

Featuring interviews with Oprah Winfrey, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, Bishop Michael Curry, Cornel West, Pastor Shirley Caesar, Rev. Al Sharpton, Yolanda Adams, Rev. William Barber II, BeBe Winans, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie and more


(REVISED JANUARY 26, 2021): FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (JULY 28, 2020): Today at the Virtual PBS Press Tour, PBS and WETA announced THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG will premiere February 16 and 17, 2021 at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide (check local listings). This moving four-hour, two-part series from executive producer, host and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, traces the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America, all the way down to its bedrock role as the site of African American survival and grace, organizing and resilience, thriving and testifying, autonomy and freedom, solidarity and speaking truth to power. The documentary reveals how Black people have worshipped and, through their spiritual journeys, improvised ways to bring their faith traditions from Africa to the New World, while translating them into a form of Christianity that was not only truly their own, but a redemptive force for a nation whose original sin was found in their ancestors’ enslavement across the Middle Passage.


Renowned participants in the series include media executive and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey; singer, songwriter, producer and philanthropist John Legend; singer and actress Jennifer Hudson; Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of The Episcopal Church; gospel legends Yolanda Adams, Pastor Shirley Caesar and BeBe Winans; civil rights leaders Rev.Al Sharpton and Rev. William Barber II;scholar Cornel West;and many more. Through their interviews, viewers will be transported by the songs that speak to one’s soul, by preaching styles that have moved congregations and a nation, and by beliefs and actions that drew African Americans from the violent margins of society to the front lines of change.


For many, the Black church is their house of worship. For some, it is an engine for social justice. For others, it is a place of transcendent cultural gifts exported to the world, from the soulful voices of preachers and congregants, to the sublime sounds of gospel music. For the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., going to church in America also was “the most segregated hour” of the week. THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG will explore the changing nature of worship spaces and the men and women who shepherded them from the pulpit, the choir loft and church pews. The churches are also a world within a world, where Black Americans could be themselves; and the epicenter of the freedom struggle that revolutionized the United States across slavery and abolition, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Great Migration, and the civil rights movement.


“Our series is a riveting and systematic exploration of the myriad ways in which African Americans have worshipped God in their own images, and continue to do so today, from the plantation and prayer houses, to camp meetings and store-front structures, to mosques and mega-churches,” says Dr. Gates. “This is the story and song our ancestors bequeathed to us, and it comes at a time in our country when the very things they struggled and died for — faith and freedom, justice and equality, democracy and grace — all are on the line. No social institution in the Black community is more central and important than the Black church.”


“We are proud to join forces again with PBS, CPB and our longtime production partner Henry Louis (Skip) Gates, Jr., to share this illuminating new series with the public,” said Sharon Percy Rockefeller, President and CEO of WETA. “Skip beautifully weaves meaningful history and cultural stories that illustrate the complex social fabric of our uniquely American experience.”


“Representing the full range of the American experience is core to our mission and work in public television,” said Paula Kerger, President & CEO of PBS. “PBS is thrilled to partner with WETA, CPB and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to present this series, which sheds important light on the central role that faith has played and continues to play in the African American community. Once again, Dr. Gates has created an extraordinary film which deepens understanding, fosters conversation and so beautifully connects our country’s past to our present.”


“We are honored that for many years Skip Gates has partnered with WETA and PBS to present his remarkable documentaries that reinforce public media’s commitment to serving diverse audiences and reflecting the people of our nation,” said Pat Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). “CPB is pleased to be part of this powerful documentary that beautifully illustrates the preeminent role church, faith and spirituality have played in shaping the Black American experience.”


Throughout the series, viewers will witness much of this world expand out to politics, culture and education, as churches are born, denominations are fractured, and leaders are made and critiqued in their quest to bring the Word to the world and the world to a higher ground. At once a liberating and traditional center of power, the church in Gates’s telling is at a crossroads today, torn between social issues and justice, human rights and inequality, secular and spiritual trends, the past and future, prompting many to wonder whether the churches of their parents and grandparents have become closed off to the most important issues of the time. The Black church has taken people from the valley to “the mountaintop” and, as some of the most influential Black voices today reflect on the meaning of the church in their lives and to the country, the series will contemplate where the “promised land” is for this generation and the next.


PART ONE – Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings)

Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the roots of African American religion, beginning with the

trans-Atlantic slave trade and the extraordinary ways enslaved Africans preserved and adapted their faith practices under the brutal realities of human bondage. As an awakening of Protestant Christianity spread in the 18th century, Black Americans embraced a vision of a liberating God and Black churches that would become bedrock institutions in the long struggle to dismantle slavery, culminating in the Civil War. With Emancipation and Reconstruction, independent Black churches flourished and helped the formerly enslaved navigate a perilous freedom by fulfilling the social, educational, financial, cultural and political needs of​ African Americans. Dr. Gates speaks with noted scholars, public figures and religious leaders about faith and the struggle for rights in the midst of growing racial violence that would continue well into the 20th century. Key figures include founder Richard Allen and preacher Jarena Lee of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; abolitionist Frederick Douglass; influential religious figure Henry McNeal Turner; and pioneers Virginia Broughton and Nannie Helen Burroughs of the National Baptist Convention.


PART TWO – Wednesday, February 17, 2021 at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings)

The series continues with the Black church expanding its reach to address social inequality and minister to those in need, from the exodus out of the Jim Crow South during the Great Migration to the heroic phase of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s. After the violent loss of leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., many Black churches found themselves at a crossroads — struggling to remain relevant in an era of increasing secularization while reckoning with urgent social and cultural issues within their congregations and broader communities. The series brings the story of the Black Church up to the present — a time of renewed struggle for racial justice in America. Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. interviews prominent figures across African American society, including celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Hudson, and John Legend; Bishops Michael Curry, Yvette Flunder and Vashti Murphy McKenzie; Rev. William Barber, and more.


With THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG, Gates continues a tradition of producing sophisticated documentary films for public media about the African and African American experience for a broad audience, including the Emmy Award-winning documentary THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS, as well as the documentaries AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES,BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE,AFRICA’S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS and RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR.

THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG is a production of McGee Media, Inkwell Media and WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Get Lifted. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the writer, host, and executive producer. Dyllan McGee is executive producer. John F. Wilson is executive producer in charge for WETA. Bill Gardner is the executive in charge for PBS. Stacey L. Holman is the series producer and director. Christopher Bryson and Shayla Harris are producer/directors. Deborah C. Porfido is the supervising producer. Kevin Burke is producer. Robert L. Yacyshyn is the line producer. Christine Fall is the archival producer. Major corporate support for THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG is provided by Johnson & Johnson. Major support is also provided by Lilly Endowment, Inc., Ford Foundation, and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and public television viewers.


About WETA

WETA is the leading public broadcaster in the nation’s capital, serving Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia with educational initiatives and with high-quality programming on television, radio and digital. WETA Washington, D.C., is the second largest producing-station of new content for public television in the United States, with productions and co-productions including PBS NEWSHOUR, WASHINGTON WEEK, THE KENNEDY CENTER MARK TWAIN PRIZE, THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS GERSHWIN PRIZE FOR POPULAR SONG, LATINO AMERICANS and ASIAN AMERICANS; and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns and scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., including FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. (Seasons 3-6), BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE and RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR. Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO. The WETA studios and administrative offices are located in Arlington, Virginia. More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at On social media, visit on Facebook or follow @WETAtvfm on Twitter.


About PBS

PBS, with more than 330 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and digital content. Each month, PBS reaches over 126 million people through television and 26 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS’s broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. Decades of research confirms that PBS’s premier children’s media service, PBS KIDS, helps children build critical literacy, math and social-emotional skills, enabling them to find success in school and life. Delivered through member stations, PBS KIDS offers high-quality educational content on TV – including a 24/7 channel, online at, via an array of mobile apps and in communities across America. More information about PBS is available at, one of the leading dot-org websites on the internet, or by following PBS on Twitter, Facebook or through our apps for mobile and connected devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at or by following PBS Pressroom on Twitter.


About McGee Media

McGee Media was founded by award-winning filmmaker Dyllan McGee to produce documentary content that is innovative, compelling, and immersive. Every story is born from a vision of a more fair and equitable world. Whether it is the sweeping history of the African-American experience, or the intimate personal stories of the hundreds of women who made up the feminist movement, McGee Media uses television, film, and digital media in radical new ways to inform and inspire. Recent projects include FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR., Seasons 3-6 (PBS), RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR (PBS), AFRICA’S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS (PBS), BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE (PBS), MAKERS (Verizon Media), ONCE & FOR ALL (AOL), FIRST IN HUMAN (Discovery), and RANCHER, FARMER, FISHERMAN (Discovery).


About Inkwell Media

Inkwell Media was founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to produce sophisticated documentary films about the African and African-American experience for a broad audience. The six-part PBS documentary series THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (2013) earned the 2013 Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, a News and Documentary Emmy Award and a NAACP Image Award. Inkwell Films has co-produced FINDING YOUR ROOTS (Seasons 1-6), RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR (2019), AFRICA’S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS (2017), BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE (2016), BLACK IN LATIN AMERICA (2011), FACES OF AMERICA (2010), LOOKING FOR LINCOLN (2009), AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES 2 (2008), OPRAH’S ROOTS (2007) and AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES (2006).


Sara Serlen, Tel.: 212-774-6148

Lauren Felsenstein, Tel.: 212-774-6162

Stephanie Kennard, PBS, Tel.: 571-319-7478