Finding her own path

WN’s scandalous new drama Greenleaf is a lens into the unscrupulous lives of the Greenleaf family and its Memphis megachurch, where the true colors of the faithful are unveiled.

The family holds so many secrets they pore over into the pulpit. The jaw-dropping drama stars Merle Dandridge (Grace Greenleaf), Lynn Whitfield (Lady Mae Greenleaf), Keith David (Bishop James Greenleaf), Oprah Winfrey (Mavis McCready), Deborah Joy Winans (Charity Greenleaf-Satterlee) and more.

As Charity Greenleaf-Satterlee, Winans embodies the life of a Bishop’s daughter and minister of music.

Before landing the lead role in Greenleaf, Winans and Oprah Winfrey met one day at a workshop for on-stage musical Born For This: The BeBe Winans Story where Winans played her aunt CeCe Winans.

“I didn’t think Ms. Winfrey would see any workshop I did, let alone remember me for a specific reason,” Winans tells BLAC. “My name started circulating in the circle because of Oprah Winfrey. So when you let God, he will use people you thought would never be thinking about you to make it happen for you.”

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Following their initial encounter, Winfrey believed Winans would be the perfect piece to the sordid Greenleaf family and offered her a chance to audition for the part.   

Winans is a fresh face in television, but that didn’t stop her from walking into the audition with strength from God and sound faith in herself.

She landed the career-changing role without an agent or manager by her side, and began a new path towards her childhood dreams.

“I was in tears walking down Sunset Boulevard with my brother, sister and niece,” says Winans. “I called my husband when I got the call. He turned the corner on Sunset, beeping the horn like a crazy person. It was very surreal for me.

“I went from really having done nothing on TV, to being a series regular on a brand new show on OWN network,” she adds. “I get to work with Oprah Winfrey, Keith David and Merle Dandridge. I’ve been really honored to shoot season one.”

Being the daughter of Carvin – one of the original singing Winans brothers – and Che’rie Winans, and even just bearing the Winans name, expectations and legacy had its pressures.

Growing up, Winans says family, friends and churchgoers expected her to follow in the footsteps of those who came before her. Despite these many pressures, she deviated from what was expected of her and pursued her own dreams of becoming an actress.

The native Detroiter went on to receive a BFA in theater from Wayne State University and an MFA in acting from the California Institute of the Arts.

“Being from Detroit has made me who I am,” says Winans. “Detroiters are resilient, we can take a lot of knuckles before we get that ‘yes’ that we need. And I think that has helped really shaped me. I’m built strong and that’s because I’m from the D.”

Upon graduation, her first job after college was performing monologues at Women of Faith conferences around the country.

“I’ve always loved acting since I was a little girl,” says Winans. “My parents used to take us to double features on the weekends and I would look up at the screen and say, ‘I can do that.’ Singing was never something I desired to do, nor was it anything that I thought I could do as well as my family. So that’s also another reason why I shied away from it. There was one point in church when I was going to sing a song and before I could open my mouth this woman said, ‘Boy, I bet you sound just like your auntie CeCe.’ I thought everyone in the world was going to expect me to sound like CeCe and if I didn’t sound like CeCe people were going to hate me and think that I wasn’t good enough.”

Despite her personal discomforts with singing, she says God has used her fear as a means for her to succeed.

Where she was once apprehensive to sing, because of outside pressures to sound just like CeCe, she used her purpose and that very same fear to embrace roles playing her beloved aunt in the Angela Bassett-directed Whitney and Born For This: The BeBe Winans Story.  Currently, Winans is in D.C. performing for Born For This at Arena Stage and aspires to go beyond network television.

“I would love to continue working,” says Winans. “I want to do it all, I want to get to Broadway, I want do some films, I would love to just work with some artists that I think are amazing. I don’t put limits on my career, because I’ve already seen what God can do.”

“Greenleaf” airs 9 p.m Wednesdays on OWN network.

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