BET’s Black Girls Rock! returned this year to celebrate black women who’ve been making strides, shaking the table, and turning the world upside down. This year’s honorees have dominated the field of music, fashion, film, dance, poetry, poverty, voting, LGBT identities, and more. With hip-hop legend and 2013 honoree, Queen Latifah, serving as host, the show was definitely filled with style, attitude, and a few quirky, funny moments.
The show opened with R&B diva, Fantasia, performing “Chain of Fools” and “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, and the crowd was stunned.
Famed director and 2015 honoree, Ava Duvernay, presented Lena Waithe with the Shot Caller award, for her groundbreaking work in film and television. During her acceptance speech, Waithe spoke about her experience as a member of the LGBT community has affected her, as well as how it has been intertwined in her work. She also took a moment to acknowledge that “gay black girls rock too”, as she put it.
Fashion model and icon, Naomi Campbell, was (again) honored with the Black Girl Magic award for her effortless style, grace, and ability to use her modeling platform to speak on injustice within and outside of the modeling industry. While accepting her award, she told the audience that “we have to make sure all black girls are honored”, and that black women are “not a trend we are here to stay”, something that was important to say in a world filled with culture vultures.
Creator of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke was honored for her work in activism and her role in creating a movement that would spread across the world. Starting her activism at a young age, Burke never expected it to go this far, but she reaffirmed her mission to the audience, stating, “no one can take what is meant for us”.
Legendary actress Phylicia Rashad presented Mary J Blige with the Star Power Award. This is the second honor The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has taken home since she was honored in 2009 with the Icon Award. While speaking about Mary J. Blige, Rashad mentioned the first time she saw Blige, and how she almost fainted. While accepting the award, Blige talked about how she used music as therapy, as well as how her music and her style has changed over the years due to her growth as a person.
On the note of growth, dancer and current Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Judith Jamison was honored with a musical tribute from Yolanda Adams and Alvin Ailey dancer Jacqueline Green. Before accepting the award, presenter and 2013 honoree Misty Copeland taught the audience the famed choreography to the company’s dance, Cry, was created by Ailey himself and dedicated it to Jamison, to black women, and black mothers.
One black mother who’s been an inspiration to others lately is Ciara. The R&B singer presented the Rock Star Award to her idol, mother, and international legend Janet Jackson. During the presentation of Jackson’s award, she mentioned how she wanted to break away and make her own lane in the family business while also creating her own identity. She also mentioned that she waited to work with her brother Michael because she didn’t want people to think she was riding his coat tail. As Janet came on stage, she was welcomed with a standing ovation. During her speech, she honored the fellow honorees, honored the women who came before her such as Nina Simone, Patti LaBelle, and Gladys Knight, as well as praise the next generation of black girls who she believes are “driving their own course by their own talent”.
Founder and creator of Black Girls Rock Beverly Bond presented the tribute to Aretha Franklin, which featured Jazmine Sullivan, Ledisi, Stephanie Mills, Cynthia Ervio, and Yolanda Adams, and Aretha was also honored during the finale of the show, as her song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”.
Black Girls Rock also honored the women who were shown as this year’s M.A.D Girls; the honorees include 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, a young girl who started a walk out in lieu of the Parkland Shooting in February of 2018 and is now inspiring other young black girls to take a stand on gun control; Shanay Thompson, a former model turned doctor who started a program that funds year-round pantries in schools in Oakland, California; and Amanda Gorman, the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, and an activist who uses poetry to discuss issues of racism, feminism, oppression, and marginalization.
Black women were of course at the center of the performances; 90’s R&B icon Tamia performed a medley of hits including her signature, “So Into You”, rising R&B stars H.E.R and Victory rocked the crowd, as well as rocking their vocals and guitars, and hip-hop artist Rapsody performed a spoken word that honored all the black women who’ve paved the way for the black women today and the black girls of the future.
For more highlights and learn about the honorees, check out the Black Girls Rock! Official site.