Michigan Lutherans Play Crucial Roles in the Making of “The First Rosa” Movie3 min read

Last September, Susan Hill, wife of Rev. James Hill (pastor at St. John, Mount Calvary, and Family of God, Detroit), and Kaye Dumas Wolff of Emmanuel, Dearborn experienced the adventure of a lifetime working on a movie shoot. Hill and Wolff were volunteers on the set to help transform Dr. Rosa J. Young’s autobiography, Light in the Dark Belt (, into a compelling screen presentation. Their goal is to bring Dr. Young’s story of faith and determination to Lutheran youth, keeping her mission alive for the next generation.

The Story of Rosa Young

Born into the poverty of sharecropping in rural Alabama, Rosa Jinsey Young (1890-1971) accomplished amazing things in her life. Known as the “mother of black Lutheranism in Alabama,” Dr. Young was instrumental in founding 35 Lutheran churches and 30 schools; overseeing the founding of Alabama Lutheran Academy, which is now Concordia College Alabama in Selma, Ala.; writing her autobiography, Light in the Dark Belt (available at, in 1929, revising it in 1950; and receiving the first Honorary Doctorate granted to a woman by Concordia Theological Seminary in 1961. Her students have found success in many fields, but she focused on directing the best and brightest of her students into the Holy Ministry and teaching.

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The Movie Project

Deeply moved by Dr. Young’s life of service, both Hill and Wolff have worked for the past five years advocating a screen version of the book. The Rosa Young Movie Project began in March 2010 at St. Philip, Detroit, a church founded by Rosa Young students who had moved north. Rev. David Burgess, Rev. Richard Robinson, Dr. Ingrid Draper, and Ms. Coretta Evans directed the trailer of the fledgling movie project. After approval of the project at The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s Convention in 2013, plans for the movie adaptation were entrusted to Rev. Dr. Ardon Albrecht of Simi Valley, Ca.

Dr. Albrecht designed and wrote the script for the movie, then asked Hill and Wolff to continue their involvement by assisting him in the shoot. In August, they traveled to Alabama for a week of pre-production and auditions and returned for the actual shoot in September. Wolff, a native of Rosebud, Ala. who was baptized at the very church featured in the story, worked as the Unit Production Manager. Her job was to be sure everything (people, food, vehicles, equipment, and insect repellent) were available when and where they were needed. Hill assumed the responsibility of wardrobe supervisor. She rented period costumes from a local theatercompany, ordered tee shirts for the crew and children, collected children’s clothing, convinced several Michigan ladies to sew cotton dresses, and planned what costumes would be required for each actor in each scene, down to their shoes and gloves.

Filming for 'The First Rosa' near Selma, Alabama

Other individuals with Michigan ties were also involved. Rev. Roosevelt Gray Jr., Director of LCMS Black Ministry, and his wife, Otelia, attended the shoot. Rev. Gray appears in the movie as an extra, and Otelia helped with wardrobe challenges and served as a studio teacher for the children. Dr. McNair Ramsey, former principal at Our Savior, Detroit served as general manager, securing locations for the shoot. Rev. Meredith Jackson and his wife, Janet, both grew up in Detroit and assisted as location site and prop managers. Terry Herald, congregation president at Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, wrote the original musical score and also appears in the movie as a cowboy singing Boll Weevil. Herald is the director of the Lutheran Choralaires and a member of the music faculty at Oakland University.

The film is due to release in 2015. Funds are still needed to complete the production including more filming, soundtrack preparation, and final editing. Contributions to help fund the film may be sent to: The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod; P.O. Box 790089; St. Louis MO 63179-9901. Make checks payable to “The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod” and write “First Rosa Film Project” on the memo line.

To learn more about Dr. Rosa Young or view the new movie trailer visit

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About the Author

Elisa is a staff writer, copy editor, and photographer for the Michigan District, LCMS.

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