“Something needed to change and the time for change is now,” said Jamila Thomas as she and Brianna Agyemang accepted their award as Billboard’s Women in Music Executives of the Year on Thursday evening (Dec. 10).
The duo co-founded the racial equality movement #TheShowMustBePaused when they impulsively put the entire music business on notice June 2 — Blackout Tuesday — to call for an industrywide end to systemic bias.
Teyana Taylor, host of Billboard’s 15th annual event, introduced Agyemang, senior artist campaign manager at Apple’s Platoon division, and Thomas, senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, by noting they “could no longer accept the systematic racism and violence aimed at people of color. It was time for action and, as music industry leaders, they fearlessly did the unthinkable — they shut it down and told us #TheShowMustBePaused.”
Taylor’s comments were followed by a video featuring images drawn from the nationwide protests against racial injustice sparked this summer by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Among those also featured in the video were Atlantic chairwoman/COO Julie Greenwald. “Brianna and Jamila are both incredibly smart, creative and dynamic young women who had the courage to think about how could they make a change … it just became something so much more, which is so important and so necessary.”
In addition to thanking their families, friends, work colleagues and mentors for their unwavering love, inspiration and support, Agyemang and Thomas shared their respective journeys and advice to other Black women in these excerpts from their speeches:
Agyemang: “It’s extremely humbling to be receiving this award, following in the trailblazing steps of the inspirational women that came before us. #TheShowMustBePaused was birthed in a year that has changed so many of our lives. We found ourselves working from home indefinitely during a global pandemic that had us all on edge. If that wasn’t enough, this was an election year. And Black and Brown people were literally fighting for their lives, not knowing if we would make it back from the store, wake up alive in our own homes or make it back from going out for a run.
“My mother came to this country as a teenager from Ghana, She guided me, my sister and my brother the best way she knew how while still allowing us the space to spread our wings, try new things, find our passions and not force us down a path that she deemed safe. That upbringing is what still guides me today: not being fearful of outcomes and trying something new if it feels right.
“And thank you to the brownie community, a community filled with Black and Brown women that work, cry, laugh, party, work out, read together and, most importantly, support each other. The power of community is a beautiful thing and I’m truly blessed for the ones that I’m part of.”
Thomas: “We decided we could no longer go about business as usual. Something needed to change and the time for change is now. We managed to take a moment that derived from exhaustion and a passion to help and turn it into a movement with a call to action. I am humbled and beyond honored to be amongst the extraordinary list of women who have received this award before us.
“I’m a girl from the Bronx, raised in a single-parent household. My mom worked double shifts as an officer for the department of corrections and I watched her take no BS on and off the clock. And she never let me see her sweat. My dad worked in the music business and I remember running around the office once and wondering where were the women? I made a note of that. I’ve gone from an intern to rising executive … we are in this for the long haul. I’ve learned what God has for you is already written and the road here has not been easy. I’ve heard no, maybe next go-round and I never gave up. I believed in myself and knew my mother didn’t raise no punk, so quitting was not an option.
“And to you at home, dear Black girl, you are necessary, you are a gem, you are smart and you belong. When they call you combative remain assertive, when they call you aggressive remain stern, when they say it’s your tone, continue to speak with confidence. Don’t doubt yourself, don’t question yourself. Keep that same energy. Always remember you write your own story and choose your own path. You have the power to make history. Hold your head up and keep shining, queen.”