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From Hollywood to Jesus

Speaker and author Cynthia Garrett was the first African-American woman to front a network late night show – Later with Cynthia Garrett. She now hosts The Sessions with Cynthia Garrett on TBN. She spoke with Jemimah Wright about her dramatic journey to real faith in Jesus 

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JW: Tell me about your family; you were brought up in California?

CG: Yes, my parents were quite wild. I am the oldest of six kids. My mother was a woman of faith; it was important to her that her children be raised in faith. My father was a visionary. He became the first black man to ever own banks in America. He owned and controlled white banks throughout the South in the early 1960s, during the Civil Rights Movement. He faced a lot of persecution because of it, but he was a man who had a tremendous faith in himself and his ability to do whatever he could imagine. He became one of the wealthiest black men in America and preached financial freedom and financial literacy. He believed in the value of hard work and did not believe in handouts and entitlements. 

I was raised in a Christ-centred home that always told me I was not a victim because of the things that happened in my life or because of the difficult circumstances that may come from being a woman, or from being mixed-race.

However, as a young girl I was sexually abused by a relative, and then raped when I was 16, so arrived into my young adulthood with a lot of brokenness and low self-esteem. I had a lot of questions and a bit of rebellion toward any sort of Christian foundation. 

I was sexually abused by a relative, and then raped when I was 16

When I got to Hollywood in my 20s I sought to explore everything from Kabbalah to New Ageism. My explorations brought me right back to the power of my own faith, and the reality that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 

JW: You studied law at college – what happened afterwards? It sounds like you were partying with the famous people in Hollywood at that time.

CG: I graduated from USC Law School and then did a programme at Oxford University. I wanted to know more about English common law, which is what the American legal system is founded on. I thought I might be interested in international law as I’ve always felt a call to the nations. Now I know that was because my call would be preaching the gospel to the nations.

I worked at a law firm for a short period of time. But I also started freelancing, doing interviews for MTV. I took a year out from the law firm thinking: “I’ll try TV for a year.” I never went back. 

I grew up with Lenny Kravitz; we were best friends at high school. I began to get a little bit of movement in my career, and started hanging out with the Brat Pack. A number of famous people were getting heavily into recreational drug use. I saw myself getting ready to disappear into a really bad spiral if I didn’t pull myself out of it, but then I met my now ex-husband and ended up in prison in Italy!

JW: Wow, how old were you at that point?

CG: I was 26 and we were married within three months. One month together in America. One and a half months of him convincing me I should go to Paris and marry him. I was there two weeks before the world exploded. I was arrested with him and found myself in a prison cell in Italy fighting to get home, because, unknown to me when I married him, he was actually a drug smuggler. 

JW: Didn’t he tell you he was a model from Serbia?

CG: Yes, who had apparently done all these big campaigns for Armani. He was very good looking so I believed him. I found out he was using this as a cover and was part of an organisation that was trafficking drugs around the world to buy arms for the Serbian civil war. He had a clear agenda to use me to get entrance into Hollywood.

Even on the honeymoon he was getting more and more abusive. I started asking questions about what he was doing, and he said he would kill me. We then got a boat to Sardinia to meet some men he was doing business with. 

JW: You were arrested while on honeymoon. I think you had had a dream and an angel appeared to you in prison – can you tell us more? 

CG: The police had been watching my ex, and when we went to pick up two packages of cocaine, which I had thrown away, armed military police surrounded us. We spent two days being interrogated. I was put into the woman’s side of the prison, and during the first few weeks I went into shock. 

One night I fell asleep in my cell. I was in isolation at the time, and in my dream a woman appeared to me. I remember thinking she was a nun. She looked exactly like my grandmother who was Italian. I could see her hair was dark, but she had a habit on. In the dream, she held out a book to me, which said, “Good News”. She said: “Do you know what this is?” I replied “No” then she said: “This is God’s word, and he’s going to send it to you. If you read it, and commit your life to it, he’ll save you.” 

I woke up the next morning, grabbed my pen and started writing the dream down. A couple of hours later, I was told there was someone coming to see me. A woman wearing all white and a nun’s habit arrived. She looked exactly like the angel in my dream. 

As she came to me, she had a book in her hand. She held it out to me and said: “Do you know what this is?” I looked at the book, and it had The Good News Bible on it. She said: “This is God’s word and this is for you. If you read it, he’ll save you.”

I just lost it. I cried and cried. 

JW: During that time I think you found out you were pregnant?

CG: Yes, a month into this experience I started feeling nauseous every morning. They gave me a pregnancy test on Christmas Eve, and it was positive.

All of a sudden, I literally had hope growing inside of me. I was reading the word of God and everything about my son’s birth has, since then, always been connected to an understanding that God gave him to me, just like he gave me his Son in the Word. 

I’ve always had an extraordinary relationship and connection to my son, Christian, who’s now 30. 

JW: So you came back from that terrible time in prison and became really successful on MTV, hosting the Grammys and the Emmys. How did that happen?

CG: I used to write an inspirational column called ‘Through the storm’ for a Christian newspaper called LA Focus. The column was based on how we get through difficult things like cancer and sexual abuse, by relying on our faith. 

Lenny Kravitz’s manager, a man named Howard Kaufman, helped me put together my first piece of tape and from that I filmed a mock late night show. I interviewed NBA star Dennis Rodman and then got signed to the William Morris Agency. 

I ended up growing my career at VH1 and then got a development deal with Paramount Studios for my own show. 

God’s favour followed my secular career. NBC brought me in to test host me on a late night show that came on in their late night block after Jay Leno on The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. They ended up rebranding it Later with Cynthia Garrett. 

JW: How did that then transition to ministry? Did you have a reawakening of your faith? 

I was arrested with my now ex-husband and found myself in a prison cell in Italy fighting to get home

CG: I always had my faith, but God was in the back seat. Honestly, the more successful I got, the more hollow it all felt. Then I met a man on an aeroplane who knew an awful lot about the Bible. He became my dear friend and Bible mentor. That man was Roger, who I am married to today. 

I had a Bible sitting on my lap, and Roger leaned over and said to me: “Oh, wow, do you read that thing?” I immediately got annoyed, because I thought: “Great, he’s about to make fun of my faith and I’m really not in the mood.” He reached into his briefcase, and pulled out a Bible. He said: “I’m not hitting on you. It’s just that I read it too.”

He then went on to say: “I do not know how you’re reading the Bible and looking so miserable. You need to know that Jesus loves you.” I broke down in tears, because I was questioning a lot. I’d gone through this experience in Italy, I had all these gifts that I dreamed of in terms of a career in Hollywood, yet I don’t think I really knew that Jesus loved me. 

Roger and I ended up having a five-and-a-half-hour Bible study from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. The only reason we traded numbers is because he asked me if I would be interested in sitting on the board of an organisation called The Pacific Justice Institute. PJI is a network of attorneys across America that fight for the rights of any person of faith to be what they are in their faith.

Later in our friendship the Lord told me: “This is your husband.” I heard it audibly. 

JW: Wow! What year did you get married? 

We got married in 2010. We dated for four years, completely celibate. We wanted that testimony. It was because of Roger that I had the opportunity to say to everyone in Hollywood: “I am done for a season; I want to be a wife and a mom.” In that period, God really taught me a lot about ministry and about going back to the study of the Word. At the end of that five-year season, God opened the door for me to launch into ministry at TBN UK. 

The more successful I got, the more hollow it all felt

JW: So to fast forward to today, you have written two books – what is happening in your life now?

CG: I’m working on my next book, Sex, The Naked Truth: Seeking purity in an impure world. I’m enjoying writing it, but it’s the hardest book I will ever write, because I believe that there is a call on this generation of purity. Every Monday we film my podcast ‘Cynthia Garrett’s Girl Club’. I have a regular cast of women in studio and we dialogue in a very real way about what we’re going through, and how we’re applying our faith. 

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