Celebrity guests, including writer Kevin Powell, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, fashion designer Catherine Malandrino and model scout Bethann Hardison, came together this month at the The Times Center in Times Square, New York City, in support of the Fourth Annual Black Girls Rock! Awards/Fundraiser.
Model-turned-DJ Beverly Bond created the charitable organization, Black Girls Rock! Inc., to empower, mentor and encourage positive life-changing activity through the arts for at-risk teenage girls of color. Hosted on Oct. 17 this year, by the hilarious duo of acclaimed actresses Tracy Ellis Ross and Regina King, the Awards event celebrates the accomplishments of women of color who have made outstanding contributions in their career field and who stand as inspirational and positive role models in the community.
“I wanted to be like Robin Hood when I was young -- not stealing from the rich, but giving to the poor,” Bond said at this year’s gala. “I wanted to pay tribute to the industry’s most accomplished icons and emerging leaders whose creative contributions often go unnoticed in mainstream media.”
The night began with a performance by Harlem School of the Arts dancer Nekira Grant, who wowed the audience with an inspirational solo choreographed by Keith Lewis. Human rights/AIDS activist Mehret Mendefro, M.D., who was chosen by President Obama as one of the 2009/2010 White House Fellows, received the Black Girls Rock! “Community Outreach” Award. Accepting the Black Girls Rock! “Living Legend” Award, poet-activist Sonia Sanchez, Ph.D., hailed the night as an opportunity to “call the children in the ghetto to learn lessons of our blood.”
Each award recipient recounted a heartfelt story of her struggle with self-image while establishing herself in her career. In accepting the Black Girls Rock! “Shot Caller” Award, Iyanla Vanzant said she stood as a testimony to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) who 38 years ago called women like her who were teen mothers living in the projects a “menace to society.” Today, Vanzant is an author, inspirational speaker and noted television personality.
Acknowledging positive images of Black men, the Black Girls Rock! “Soul Brother #1” Award went to seven-time Grammy-nominated singer Anthony Hamilton for his emotional, unconventional approach to song composition and style. Rapper Doug E. Fresh pumped up the crowd with his signature “beat-boxing” – pounding out beats with his voice only -- as he introduced the recipient of the Black Girls Rock! “Rock Star” Award to rap royalty Queen Latifah.
“That was the best introduction of my entire career!” Queen Latifah declared before thanking her artist mother and police officer/Black Panther father for raising her not to be a bully even though she could “beat up all the kids in the class” and demanding more female faces in the “male-saturated rap game.” She donated $25,000 to Black Girls Rock that night!
Additional entertainment came from rising star Janelle Monae, who also received the Black Girls Rock! “Who Got Next?” Award. Monae, a singer, promised to be a beacon and representative for women who cannot speak up for themselves.
The always-inspirational Mary J. Blige, nicknamed “queen of hip hop soul,” received the Black Girls Rock! “Icon” Award. “I rock right now because I am intelligent, because my mission is to never see Black women constantly hurt and because I must be an example for the next generation of Black girls that rock,” she said.
Funds raised at The Black Girls Rock! gala will help the organization to continue its work in the Black community.