#Blackgirlmagic electrifies New Jersey Performing Arts Center
by Akosua Oforiwaa-Ayim
The energy inside the New Jersey Performing Arts Center was electrifying, yet warm and welcoming at the same time as thousands gathered for Black Girls Rock! The award show is a yearly celebration of the resilience, tenacity and beauty of Black women everywhere and is co-produced by BET. Each year, BGR! honors several women not only within the entertainment industry, but also in the worlds of community activism, health awareness and politics. This year’s honorees included the incomparable Gladys Knight (Living Legend Award), the phenomenal Shonda Rhimes (Shot Caller Award), the tenacious Danai Gurira (Star Power Award), superstar Rihanna (Rock Star Award), inspirational Amandla Stenberg (Young, Gifted and Black Award), and the incredibly hard-working co-founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors (Community Change Agent Award).
Black Girls Rock! also gives recognition to young girls who are Making A Difference (M.A.D Girls) during the show. This year, we saw some amazing young women who are truly changing the world around them, including Marley Dias, founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, an international movement to collect and donate children’s books that feature Black girls as the protagonist. Haile Thomas, another M.A.D girl, is the founder and executive director of HAPPY Organization, a group that encourages youth to embrace healthy habits through fun cooking classes, nutrition education and physical activity. Haile started the program after completely reversing her father’s diabetes by changing his diet and keeping him active. These girls are 11 and 15 respectively – how amazing is that?
The evening was bursting of something Black women are in need of – affirmation, uplift and positive energy. Performances from Marsha Ambrosius, Corinne Bailey Rae, Imani Uzuri, Monica, Jazmine Sullivan, Brandy, Lauryn Hill and Living Legend Gladys Knight kept the evening full of all these and so much more. This year’s host, Tracee Ellis Ross, had as much energy as ever with an opening that paid respect to decades of musical queens – everyone from Beyonce and Rihanna to her own mother, Dionne Warwick. Powerful speeches from the awardees and BGR! founder Beverly Bond were full of gems that had the entire crowd nodding their heads and responding in the natural call-and-response cadence that seems to live in the spirit of diasporic people. As Beverly noted, she created Black Girls Rock! because she “want[s] us to walk confidently in our authentic truth and [she] want[s] us to be free.” Sitting in a theatre full of Black women of all ages, walks of life and levels of success, cheering each other on, loving each other and celebrating each other is the freest I’ve felt in a very long time – and I can’t wait to experience it again at next year’s show.