The annual Black Girls Rock! ceremony recently aired on its home channel, BET, bringing together a room full of beautiful black people and honoring the success and work of some of the magical women in our tribe. SZA kicked off the show, located at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, with a performance of her song “Normal Girl,” which was followed by an opening monologue from host Taraji P. Henson, who highlighted the versatility of black hair through her particular hair journey over the years.
The show continued with a variety of performances which included a bit of soul via Anthony Hamilton and the Hamiltones and Ledisi, a sprinkle of gospel from Tasha Cobb, and a dab of honor from India.Arie and Tyrese, who paid tribute to the “Living Legend” honoree Roberta Flack with their renditions of her music.
The night was nothing short of inspirational as the award recipients graced the stage and accepted their trophies, providing words of encouragement, specifically to black girls of a younger generation. Wood Harris presented the “Shot Caller” award to Suzanne Shank, for her many works on Wall Street as CEO, co-founder and majority owner of one of the nation’s top minority and woman owned investment firms. In her speech, she attributed her accomplishments to the support of black women who wouldn’t let society’s expectations define her.
“I always say what others think is my disadvantage has actually been my advantage,” she said. “Being a black woman in America has taught me an instinctiveness and an adaptiveness that has allowed me to prosper despite the barriers.” She continued with reasons why black women should continue to back young black girls. “When all of us invest in black girls, when we give them every opportunity to succeed and empower them with confidence, the returns for our community, our country and our world are limitless,” she said.
Derrica and Natalie Wilson, co-founders of the Black and Missing Foundation were awarded with the “Community Change” Award as the lack of media coverage on missing black people led to their endless work which has since brought 200 people back to their homes. Muslim Olympian cyber fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed, current activist, dancer and future doctor, Augusta Uwamanzu-naa and Haben Girma, the first deaf/blind woman to graduate from Harvard Law received the “M.A.D Girl” awards for the night. Dr. Njema Frazier was also honored for her contributions in science. Some of the most memorable moments of the show came from some of our favorite people.
The “Young, Black and Gifted” award was rightfully presented to the wise and Harvard bound actress, Yara Shahidi. Her speech explained that she loved the room because it “overflows with mentors” is “overflowing with peers,” and simply because in that room, she said, “we are allowed to be our full selves.” Shahidi touched on the tendency to define life by what we aren’t, a sentiment also expressed by Issa Rae later on that night.
“It takes a concerted, conscious and collective effort to feel safe enough to take our time to discover who we are,“ said Shahidi. “Our community of smart, powerful, insightful, FIERCE black girls is a community that exists without definition and therefore without restriction.”
After making it known that she’d never cheat on co-star Jay Ellis in real life, Issa Rae’s acceptance speech for the “Star Power” award detailed the three moments as a 12-year-old that helped her realize she would never be the funniest, the coolest, or the prettiest. “My life changed when I focused on what I was, what I was good at, what I liked most about myself and what made me stand out,” she said.
Beverly Bond, creator of the night’s event, took the stage to remind the audience of the magic of black women and to highlight her reasons for creating Black Girls Rock! “Many of the privileges that others enjoy rest on the bravery and on the heroism of black women and yet we’ve never been fully acknowledged,” she said. “I created Black Girls Rock! because I recognize that the condition of black girls can only change when we are the authors of our own stories.”
Bond then introduced Solange, the recipient of the “Rock Star” award, and the A Seat at the Table artist spoke about how black women make her feel invincible; how they uplift each other through good times and bad. She explained that her search to find her voice took a while and has not yet ceased.
“I don’t always have it figured out,” said Solange. “There are days that I feel very insecure and I feel like I failed. There are days that I feel so goddamn weird and alone, but I get up and I want you to know that you can and you will too.”
Last but certainly not least, Congresswoman Maxine Waters aka Auntie Maxine accepted the “Social Humanitarian” award, inciting the crowd with words very much appropriate for this country while under the Trump administration.
“If it was not for the love and respect from black women, those right wing, ultra conservative, alt right haters in this country, they would have me believe I’m too black, I’m too confrontational, I’m too tough and I’m too disrespectful of them,” said Waters. “Now I know I am simply a strong black women.” In regards to Trump, she stated, “I don’t care how big you are, I don’t care how high you think you are, if you come for me, I’m coming for you.” She preached about resisting and ultimately impeaching the president, ending her speech with her famous catchphrase, “Reclaiming My Time!”
Another year, another opportunity to publicly celebrate the beauty and success of African American women; another day to show the world that despite the universe’s attempts to keep us down, black girls have and will continue to rock!
Written By: Sweenie Nicole