Grammy Award-winning singer Priscilla Marie Winans Love, fondly known as CeCe Winans, never imagined being a speaker. She was comfortable in her career as a world-famous gospel artist, and her dreams were to accomplish more in that sphere. An urgent phone call from a friend requesting that she speak at a conference burst the walls of the music bubble she was used to shining in. “CeCe, you have got to speak,” her friend said. “If you don’t speak out, then who’s going to speak out?” This was the turning point–she realized she could impact the lives of many youths from her God-given celebrity platform by speaking and singing. Hence the birth of her annual Always Sisters Forever Brothers Youth Conference in 2005.
It started as a one-and-a-half-day girls-only conference for young women from the ages of 13 to 26. That first year, 600 girls showed up; the next year 2,400 from different parts of the country attended; and in 2007, more than 3,400 girls came to the conference. The overwhelming response prompted CeCe and members of her team to consider doing something for young men. In 2009, Forever Brothers was formed. The conference consists of informational and mentoring sessions, as well as comedy, shows, and music from prominent gospel artists. Some of the past guest speakers include Kimberly Daniels, Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, Jentezen Franklin, Maya Angelou, and JoAnn Rosario. This year’s conference will take place from July 19-21 at The Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville.
During a recent interview with MannaEXPRESS, CeCe didn’t need to look far to sound the note of urgency about making a positive difference in the lives of today’s youths. “Did you hear about my brother Marvin being carjacked recently?” she asked as we began talking about the conference. Her older brother, Grammy Award winner the Reverend Marvin Winans, who eulogized at the funeral of Whitney Houston, was attacked on May 16, 2012, while fueling his car at a northwest Detroit gas station. Three boys jumped him, started beating him, and made away with his 2012 luxury SUV, a $15,000 Rolex watch, and his wallet. “Our young people have to find their purpose in life. It has to be bigger than sitting in a gas station waiting to rob innocent people,” Marvin Winans said afterward. “We’ve got to do a better job raising our young men.”
As though she were still reeling from the shock of this attack, CeCe told how the news of the incident shook her whole family and how they thanked the Lord for His faithfulness. She talked about the need for the younger generation to be discipled and shared her vision for the conference.
What motivated you to start this conference?
The need for direction is the cry of the heart of many youths everywhere. When I started the conference, I started because I knew I had to do something. I had a desire to nurture young girls by teaching them how to live holy lives, love themselves, not to date the devil no matter how fine he is, and most important, to love God and develop a relationship with Him.
What happens during the conference?
The conference is a safe place, and we bring speakers who love kids and understand their need to be nurtured. The power of God shows up, and there is deliverance from low self-esteem, personal struggles, drugs, insecurity, and more. Most of them come ready to be delivered and looking for the truth.
There is also good music from great gospel artists. It takes a village to raise children. God has used people in my own kids’ lives to speak and pour into them. When my siblings and I were growing up, our parents always encouraged us to go to camp. We always went, got fed by other people, and came back impacted. Some kids come to the conference with the wrong mindsets, and by the time they are leaving, their mindsets are changed. We can be a part of stopping the prisons from looking like a college campus.
This year, one of our guest speakers is TV’s Judge Greg Mathis–a former prisoner who is a celebrated judge today. We also have a phenomenal lady, Dianne Manusama, who is coming from Australia; her ministry on living for God and removing strongholds so blessed me that I sent my own children to her camp in Australia last year. It takes love to gain the trust of teenagers and young adults, which is what is lacking in the lives of many of them. Something must be done about it–we must meet their emotional needs God’s way.
Do you think you are fulfilling a God-given purpose? How do you feel after each conference?
Testimonies of children going home and giving their parents testimonies of transformation touch my heart. During the conference last year, we had testing for HIV as well as sessions dealing with bullying, suicide, and the hopelessness and shame that many youths are carrying around. It was very moving. Teaching them to flee from a lifestyle that will prevent them from catching the virus was very fulfilling. Some children came as their last resort, and we were there to make a change in their lives.
During one of my TBN shows, I was sharing about what we do, and Maya Angelou happened to be watching that particular show. She was so impressed, she called and asked me if she could come and share with the young people. I was thrilled; she came, spoke wisdom to the kids, and left without even taking an honorarium. She saw the need in ministering to the youth and jumped at it immediately. I was in awe and it made me feel I was on the right track. The football coach Tony Dungy also came and impacted the kids one year. All this gives me the courage to go on.
Do you plan to go international with this conference?
A friend of mine invited me to South Africa to minister to about 600 girls a few years ago. There were 2,500 girls waiting for me by the time I got there. I see myself expanding internationally when the time comes.
What do you see yourself doing in the near future?
I will continue to do music and hopefully continue to do conferences. I want to build an army that stands for what is right. It is a passion for righteousness and to do the right thing. I will see the young people rise. There are so many young people ready to be in charge, and we will continue to minister to them. Together, we can do it. We must continue to do our reasonable service by trying to do to others what He has done for us. Oh God, give me a heart to really care.
How can people find more information about the conference?
To find out more about this conference, visit www.alwayssistersforeverbrothers.com. We do not want to turn any child away because of financial constraints, hence the request for people to donate or sponsor a child.
Thank you, CeCe, for talking to us, and God bless you.
Thank you and God bless.
May Olusola is the founder and publisher of MannaEXPRESS.