Celebrity deejay, former model and now businesswoman/entrepreneur Beverly Bond is all about empowerment. So much so that her non-profit mentoring program and awards show Black Girls Rock! (BGR) are still alive and kicking after five years. And there are no plans for slowing down. In fact, Bond is just getting warmed up.
Founded in 2006, BGR! is a youth empowerment mentoring organization that was born out of Bond’s idea to create a t-shirt dedicated to “Black women who rock.” That turned into a mentoring program for girls, which evolved into a televised awards program that airs every year on the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network. The awards show celebrates “the accomplishments of exceptional women of color who have made outstanding contributions in their careers and stand as inspirational and positive role models in the community.”
The 2010 premiere drew 2.7 million viewers and ranked number one in Black households.
This year’s honorees, television producer Mara Brock Akil; education reform advocate Marian Wright Edelman; American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland; tennis champion Venus Williams; legendary singer Patti La Belle; hip-hop artist-actress-talk show host Queen Latifah; and “violence interrupter” Ameena Matthews, are trailblazers in their respective industries. This is just the kind of group Bond had in mind when she formed BGR.
Asserts Bond, “Girls need to see what cool really looks like...what being beautiful, powerful and excellent really looks like.”
Past honorees have included activist Angela Davis, human rights activist and doctor Hawa Abdi, legendary singer Dionne Warwick, actress and philanthropist Kerry Washington and Women’s National Basketball Association President Laurel Richie.
Here, TNJ.com caught up with Bond to talk about why she started BGR, how she funded it, and her future plans for the organization:
TNJ.com: What was your inspiration for creating Black Girls Rock?
Beverly Bond: It was an idea for a t-shirt. As I was creating the first t-shirt, which was a collage of names of Black women who’ve rocked throughout our history both past and present, I stopped and looked at the women’s names. I said “wow” and realized this is way bigger than t-shirts. I realized it was an affirmation that our women, babies and even grandmothers needed to hear. I decided to start a mentoring program because I know that our young girls are not exposed to all of the greatness that we come from. These are not the media messages they are hearing about and I wanted to get it into their systems. And then I realized I needed to start an awards show to honor the women who don’t get the recognition they deserve. They should have the kind of fanfare that other women get for the things they do, not just for our culture, but also for the world.
I immediately came up with the idea for the awards show and the mentoring program. I had tunnel vision and never looked back. I was focused on making all of it happen. I called everyone I knew who worked for non-profits. I was a model and a deejay and didn’t know anything about non-profits and starting mentoring programs. But I knew I had something to offer young girls to help them get to the next best level. That was my passion.
As a deejay, I - more so than other people - was in the line of fire of a lot of media messages. The songs and the videos that were being played were being sent directly to me. I looked at the messages in the media that were directed towards women and felt that it was my job to pay attention. As a woman, when you hear conflicting messages about women, you just can’t believe it. I talked with other women in the entertainment industry about the ridiculousness of a lot of the negative messages, but there was always a feeling that you couldn’t do anything about it because any time someone did speak up and say something, they were cut down and criticized about every single flaw. They were accused of not knowing anything about the industry or music or hip-hop. I felt that I was at the top of my game as a deejay and I wasn’t going to be subjected to that.
And so I created Black Girls Rock. The message is an affirmation. It’s not about critiquing anyone else’s way. It’s about bringing another option to the table.
TNJ.com: Was it tough to get funding?
B.B.: We are still in that struggle! I am a do-it-yourself kind of person. People who follow their passion are usually the same way. I invested my own money because I felt it was necessary. As a celebrity deejay, I get paid more money than a lot of other deejays, so I threw everything I had into it because I believed in it and yes, I threw myself under the bus! I don’t recommend everybody do the same thing, but I was so focused on making sure this came to light. I believed that our girls needed it. And yes, we do need funding. It’s hard for all non-profits. Our gift and our curse is that now that we’re on TV, people think we have money and we’re doing well. They think the organization belongs to BET and they’re flooding us with money, but that’s just not the case. Not to take anything away from our great platform with BET, but they’re not partnered with our non-profit work.
TNJ.com: How was BGR received?
B.B.: It did take time. At first, I thought the coolest thing to teach girls would be how to deejay. And I went to the Scratch Academy and spoke to them. They loved the idea and said it reminded them of [the late] Jam Master Jay who started the Academy. He felt that a lot of kids in urban communities who were born into the hip-hop culture could not afford the equipment that’s needed to be a part of that culture, so they were being left behind. The Academy happily opened their doors for me to help me start the BGR mentoring program. They gave me an incredible discount at the time so that I could bring girls in. It helped me learn how to recruit.
TNJ.com: Did it take a lot of time to get people onboard to be mentees and mentors?
B.B.: It was difficult at first to get people to be a part of it. I remember thinking, ‘I wish people would have offered to teach me how to deejay because I would have been there every week! We learned to get stricter with our application process, which made a huge difference. When you get girls who want to be there, and they go through the application process of getting there, it’s a part of their development of learning to be excellent. We don’t skip that step anymore. At first, we just opened the door to whoever wanted to come. But people would come in and then they’re not there the following week and so on. Meanwhile, we’re still paying the Academy for these deejay programs, so that became a good learning lesson for us. Now I think we have a great process of recruiting girls and getting the word out and also our mentoring programs are incredible and very effective. Although it’s still very much an arts-based program, it’s no longer just about deejaying. We have tap dancing, Capoeira, African dance, but we also have robotics, coding, college prep and empowerment circles. We give our girls a well-rounded experience, especially in our summer leadership camp, which is a 2-week intensive where girls from all over the world come in and participate. It’s very satisfying to see how the work affects our mentees, and the parents are very appreciative.
TNJ.com: Seven years in, what are your goals for BGR…or have you met your goals for the program?
B.B.: We want to continue to grow, empower and make sure our girls are given the tools to become their best selves. There’s a lot of work to be done because there’s a lot of issues in our community that need to be addressed. Certainly we can’t do all of the work ourselves, but we are trying to make a difference in the lives of many. Sometimes just the affirmation alone seems to make a difference, without the girls even being in our program.
In the future, we plan to form a BGR think tank. We want to be a research hub for how media messages affect our girls. We want to spread information about our women and our history. Those are things we’re working towards for the coming year in continuing to expand our work and our camp.
Bond says to stay tuned for the boys program!
Black Girls Rock! will air on November 3 at 7pm on the BET network.