August 13, 2011
By Ta-Tanisha Thomas
More than four thousand teenagers and young adults from all across the globe descended upon Nashville, Tennessee for the Always Sisters Forever Brothers (ASFB) conference held at Belmont University’s Curb Event Center from July 21 to July 23, 2011. Founded under the umbrella of Sharing the Vision, a non-profit organization founded by gospel music artist CeCe Winans, the conference aims to equip attendees with practical life changing information to help them overcome issues faced by their generation.
For three days, the conference attendees participated in a balance of informative lectures and presentations from expert speakers with a variety of entertainment and a grand finale closing concert hosted by David “Mr. Brown” Mann, that brought the most talented gospel artists in the industry to the ASFB stage. The conference’s key note message, “You Are a Winner,” was delivered by ASFB founder, CeCe Winans. She used her platform to share a message of hope by bringing light to situations that compromise and plague the environments where young people are expected to thrive. Using the story of David and Goliath, she literally slayed the giant, while stressing the importance of being equipped with the Word of God.
Other insightful lectures by Ashley Love, Matt Pitt, LaCrae, and Dr. I.V. Hilliard were poignant, as were the attendees response to panel discussions: What You Think About You, Oh Daddy, Where Art Thou?, Sick and Tired: HIV/AIDS/STDs and Love or Lust. The panels presented a number of expert speakers including: Drs. Keith & Leslie Churchwell, Chef David Owens, Karynthia Phillips, Kim Daniels, Janet Boynes, Brian Hockett, Nancy Alcorn, Mercy Ministries Graduate Monica LaPlante, Dr. Diedra Jackson, Wess Morgan, Pastor Horace Hockett, Warren Ballentine, Chris Sanders, Onnie Kirk, and Beverly Johnson, who all enhanced the information being shared while upholding the conference theme. Timely and relevant, the panels brought conference attendees face-to-face with the realities of fatherlessness, homosexuality, drug addiction, infatuations and relationships. Two panelists living with HIV shared their stories and encouraged more than 70 young people to be tested on-site.
Engaging and fun, the entertainment weaved throughout the conference program made it that much more enjoyable. Dance troops, step teams, spoken word, singers and the Praise & Worship team that opened every segment kept the audience captivated. The Christian Comedian Akintunde is on his 2011 Rebirth of Comedy Tour, and he brought wholesome funny back. His hilarious storytelling and superb timing put everyone in the right mood to witness the fashion show that came up next, which featured clothing, accessories and shoes from event sponsors Belk in Cool Springs, Smack and Posh.
Additional highlights of the program included a saxophone solo from Winans nephew, Ryan Caldwell, his jazzy rendition of Kirk Franklin’s smash hit, I Smile, had everyone in the audience doing just that. Jonathan McReynolds, an independent gospel artist and student at Chicago’s Columbia University performed so well, the audience demanded an encore. The conference closed with a stellar concert that was hosted by the hilarious David “Mr. Brown” Mann. The top names in today’s gospel music industry took the stage including, conference founder CeCe Winans, Preashea Hilliard, Tamela Mann, LeCrea, Canton Jones and Fred Hammond.
There are no words to explain the miracles and breakthroughs that were occurring for so many youth. It was heartwarming to see so many young people using their time and talents positively at ASFB. About this year’s conference, Founder CeCe Winans says, “The conference was a huge success because the presence of the Lord was there. The prayer, worship, teaching and preaching was life changing! Amazing stories of what transpired in individuals continue to come in; I am humbled and forever grateful to God for being a promise keeper.”
The experience was indeed life changing, my 14-year old daughter, Ta-Tiana, attended the conference, and says,
“The Always Sisters Forever Brothers conference that I went to was a great experience. It covered a lot of things that a teenager faces and taught me that no matter what problems I’m facing that God will help me find my way through. My favorite part of the conference included the guest speakers, dancing and performances. Each guest speaker shared their story and told how God helped them find their way when they were lost. One of my favorite guest speakers was Lacrae. He talked about how he sought approval from others when he was younger and when he got older realized that he didn’t need it. I think because of his age, it was easy for me to relate to him. The dancing that took place at the conference was done by kids my age. They danced to up-tempo gospel songs and it was very entertaining. I loved the choreography, it wasn’t simple and you could tell that a lot of work was put into the dances. The best part was the concert! It was incredible and had me up and signing along. I was extremely excited about Canton Jones’ performance, he did a great job. All in all, I had a great time at the conference. I think it’s a good experience for teenagers. I learned a lot and still had a wonderful time.”
We were so pleased to be part of such a wonderful event. Please make sure you show love to the conference sponsors, Mercy Ministries, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and Verizon Wireless/Hopeline, who provided the conference attendees with activities and novelty items during breaks. Everyone involved is to be commended for a job well done; special recognition for conference director, Demetrus Stewart!
If you are interested in donating to, learning more about or attending the Always Sisters Forever Brothers conference, please visit their website.