T.D. Jakes ends ‘Woman, Thou Art Loosed!’ with Atlanta homecoming

Conference empowered women from around the world.

A global Christian-based conference that began as a Sunday school class in West Virginia in 1992 will end its run this month in Atlanta.

“Woman, Thou Art Loosed!,” a religious and empowerment conference for Black women, will hold its final “homecoming” at the Georgia World Congress Center, Sept. 22-24, the city where it first launched as a full conference in 1996.

“I think it’s time for the younger generation to take their rightful place,” said Bishop T.D. Jakes, who once graced the cover of Time magazine as one of the people who was “changing the way we see the world.”

Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, calls Jakes a “pioneer” in the field of mega faith-based assemblies.

While there were faith-based meetings for Black Christians around, Jakes took it to another level.

“This kind of conference for women was really a big deal in the 1990s,” she said. It made some women religious leaders “household names. There were always conferences, but Jakes did it on a national level and made it big. He made an industry out of these conferences and books. It really made him the megachurch preacher that he is today.”

Over the years, the conference drew such speakers and guests as televangelist Paula White-Cain, Aretha Franklin, Cicely Tyson and the late evangelist Joyce L. Rodgers.

At its height in Atlanta, the “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” conference filled the Georgia Dome in 2000.

More than 20,000 people will attend this year’s conference, which will be held at Georgia World Conference Center.

Speakers at the three-day conference “Woman, Thou Art Loosed: The Homecoming, The Grand Finale,” include Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks; Pastor Sarah Jakes Roberts, author of “Woman Evolve: Break Up with Your Fears and Revolutionize Your Life”; and Valerie Love, senior vice president, human resources, North America for the Coca-Cola Company.

Performers will include Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Micah Stampley and DJ Spinderella. In-person tickets, ranging from $150 to $600, are sold out, but virtual viewing options are available at www.wtal.org for $150.

Jakes, the senior pastor of the Potters House in Dallas, is a filmmaker and author of more than 40 books, with one, “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!,” having been translated into 15 languages.

Even though Jakes, 65, is shutting down the conference, he’s not slowing down.

Considered one of the most influential pastors in the world, Jakes will still lead the 30,000-plus Dallas congregation at the main church, produce films and lead the T.D. Jakes Foundation, a workforce development and community building nonprofit.

“I can continue to address these problems,” he said. “We have 50,000 to 70,000 people streaming every Sunday morning. I can continue to do my leadership conferences, I will continue to have input and, hopefully, help address some of the issues that are still pervasive. I haven’t dropped out of the fight.”

And recently, Jakes’ real estate company acquired 94.5 acres of Fort McPherson property adjacent to Tyler Perry Studios in southwest Atlanta for mixed-use development and provide more affordable housing in the area.

The Rev. Cynthia L. Hale, senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, attended the first and second WTAL conferences in Atlanta years ago and described the atmosphere as electric.

“It was the place to be for Christian women who were seeking wholeness, but also freedom from whatever was binding you or holding you in captivity in any way — spiritually, physically or emotionally.”

And while she hates to see the conference, which was last held in Atlanta in 2014, end, Hale understands the rationale for letting others step into that space.

Today, she said, younger women are still struggling with all kinds of “bondages, some placed on us by society, some of it by our families.”

There will be workshops on faith, economic empowerment and health, with a special focus on mental health among Black women.

According to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, fewer than half of Americans receive the mental health services that are needed. Of those, Black Americans get such help about half as often as white people.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

The title of the conference, and a book and film by the same name is inspired by Scripture in Luke 13 that addresses a woman’s healing inside and out, freedom from past pain, humiliation and forgiveness.

Cynthia Harper is a long-time attendee.

“You know to expect something phenomenal to take place,” she said. “It’s much more than a church atmosphere. It’s good. It’s powerful. It’s almost life changing. It speaks to the whole mind, body and soul. It’s God’s work and God’s words in action.”

Jakes will also release a commemorative “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” CD music project that will be marketed in the United States and Africa.

Jakes looks back on the early “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” conferences and admits being scared.

“I was so afraid because I’d never done anything on that scale and size before and didn’t know who would respond.”

He noticed many women in his Charleston, West Virginia, church were going though or had experienced challenges such as broken marriages, raising children on their own, emotional distress, finding a work life balance and “such unmentionables at the time” like molestation and abuse.

“It started out really about trauma — emotional and spiritual trauma,” said Jakes.

It was in Atlanta in 1996, where the conference “absolutely exploded,” in terms of attendance, said Jakes. “When I took it to Atlanta it really, really went to another level...We have a long history in Atlanta and I’m really glad to return to Atlanta for the finale.”

As word spread and attendance mushroomed, the conference widened its focus to include topics like homeownership, entrepreneurship, health and inequity in the workplace. But it also kept its strong focus on faith.

He’s often asked the question about why a man would put on a conference for Black women. He said his relationships with his wife, mother, sister and daughter helped his perspective on the challenges women might face in life.

“Being a man is an asset. Very few women in our community get to hear a male perspective — to have a man validate and authenticate that these were real issues and they were just not being emotional.”