For the past 10 years, Black Girls Rock! founder/esteemed DJ Beverly Bond has made it her mission to fuel the next generation of young black girls to become leaders, change agents, and champions. In 2006, Bond launched the awards show, which has become an annual on-screen fist pump to women of color.
On Friday (April 1), BGR descended on Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center with special tributes to Shonda Rhimes (the TV empress behind Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy ?and How To Get Away With Murder), singer Rihanna among others and even featured a special appearance from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The venue was filled with girl power, even off-camera. Actress/ dancer Debbie Allen walked over to snap a selfie with Riri and even grabbed actress Cicely Tyson to join while 11-year-old Marley Dias, who launched the hashtag #1000BlackGirlBooks to spotlight black girls playing the lead in literature, waited her turn to say hello to Rih.
Below are the 8 most epic moments from Black Girls Rock!, which airs on BET on April 5 at 8/7c.
Three-time host Tracee Ellis Ross performs a medley of black girl anthems
The Black-ish star opened the show with a montage to salute the evolution of black girl magic of by performing a handful of black girl anthems. From Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” to Janet Jackson’s “Control” and Rihanna’s “Work,” the comedienne/ actress committed to each pop culture moment (wig changes included). During her performance, she noted that “versatility” is one of the most magical parts about being a black girl to resounding applause from the audience. FYI: Rihanna’s reaction to Tracee’s rendition of “Work” is GIF-worthy.
Danai Gurira salutes Dr. Maya Angelou in acceptance speech for Star Power award
In all her afro’d glory, Erykah Badu handed the trophy to the actress, also known as The Walking Dead’s kitana-wielding star Michonne, her props for being the “bad ass” that she is and noted that her Broadway play Eclipse is the first to have a staff with only black women. *Drops mic* Gurira accepted the award by quoting her role model, Dr. Maya Angelou, saying, “I can’t believe my good fortune. I am so grateful to be a black woman. I would be jealous if I were anything else.”
Mommy-to-be Tatyana Ali presents the Young, Gifted and Black Award to Amandla Stenberg
Former Fresh Prince actress Tatyana Ali graced the stage in a stunning blue dress and flaunted her growing baby bump before presenting brilliant young actress and activist Amandla Stenberg with the Young, Gifted and Black Award. The Hunger Games star received the honor with poise, bashfulness and wisdom beyond her years. “I used to feel too big and too bold,” she said, “I realized my blackness doesn’t inhibit me from being beautiful and intelligent, it is the reason why I am beautiful and intelligent.”
Hillary Clinton declares “Black girls rock!”
After Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Jazmine Sullivan gave a pitch perfect performance of her song, “Mona Lisa,” presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton took the stage. Welcomed with a standing ovation and unabashed support, Clinton riled up the audience by declaring, “The entire world knows what you know, and that is, black girls rock!” After addressing the national crises in Flint, she revealed her life was changed by strong leaders like Dr. Maya Angelou and Michelle Obama before encouraging the audience to go out and vote. Her appearance was a surprise no one saw coming—except for those who ran in to the Secret Service at the venue.
Clinton also introduced the incomparable founder of Black Girls Rock!, Beverly Bond. Bond thanked the audience for supporting her vision to empower young women across the nation for the past 10 years. Her speech was equal parts daunting and inspiring as she reminded young girls about the difficulties of the journey they face ahead. “We are told our black is not beautiful, but our features can be bought and sold to enhance other people,” she offered. “I started Black Girls Rock! because I love us and believe in us.”
Gladys Knight honored with Living Legend Award, performs medley of hits
Chasing Destiny creator Kelly Rowland presented Gladys Knight the fitting Living Legend Award with Dionne Warwick. She also revealed that they met holding up towels for each other to change behind the stage decades ago at a small theater in Brooklyn. Gladys accepted the award, saying it was the “greatest trophy she ever received.” Later, Knight tore down the stage by performing a medley of her greatest hits including “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “If I Were Your Woman” and “Love Overboard.”
Grey’s Anatomy star Debbie Allen delivers the Shot Caller Award to her longtime boss Shonda Rhimes
BGR celebrated primetime queen Rhimes by noting her numerous awards and barrier-breaking accomplishments as a woman of color. Rhimes graciously accepted by calling Allen “the creator of black girl magic.” During her speech, she mentioned her 11-year-old daughter, Harper, who attended the ceremony with her, and encouraged every young woman to forge their own path. “Don’t look up here to us. Put us in your rearview mirror,” she said. “Accomplish something you’d never imagine in your wildest dreams. Change the world and then, change it again.”
Rihanna bags the Rock Star Award
Fashion icon and original bad gal, Bethann Hardison, presented Rihanna with her Rock Star Award. As Riri and the audience watched a video montage of the singer’s life — including moments with her beloved grandma, Gran Dolly, she teared up as she walked up to the podium. “This is an important moment in my career to be celebrated because I’m black,” said Rih, before adding, “Role model is not the title they like to give me, which is why tonight, it is so important. I know I am inspiring girls to be themselves and that’s half the battle.”
Lauryn Hill closes the show
Lauryn Hill made a triumphant return to the stage with a medley of two new songs and a reprise of her hit song, “Lost Ones.” Her voice and lyrics still resonate as strongly as they did when The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill dropped in 1998, providing a fitting finale for Black Girls Rock!