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Awards show celebrating black women aims to uplift

By Stacy A. Anderson
Associated Press / November 3, 2011

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WASHINGTON—When Beverly Bond started the organization Black Girls Rock!, her goal was to empower young girls of color and give them better images than the often negative depictions seen in the media.

She made a list of women she believed lived up to the mantra, from Beyonce to civil rights figure Ruby Bridges. While the world knows Beyonce by one name, Bridges and other important black women are not as celebrated, and Bond felt that needed to change.

"We have to show them and expose to them these incredible women, and we also have to honor these women," she said. "Some don't get their just due in history and in the world. And more important, our youth don't know about these women."

The 6th annual Black Girls Rock! Awards show is part of Bond's mission to change that. The event, to air Sunday for the second straight year on BET, will pay homage to celebrities such as Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson, actress Tatyana Ali and gospel legend Shirley Caesar. But it will also honor political activist Angela Davis, WNBA President Laurel J. Richie, and Imani Walker and Malika Saada Saar, the co-founders of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights.

Singer and actress Jill Scott said she was on board with Black Girls Rock! from the moment she first heard the title.

"We are so valuable to this planet; anytime we can see that and hear that and show that, I'm there," said Scott, who performed at the ceremony, taped in the Bronx last month. Other performers included Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Melanie Fiona, Mary Mary, Estelle and newcomer Elle Varner.

Tracee Ellis Ross, who stars on the BET sitcom "Reed Between the Lines," co-hosted the awards show with actress Regina King.

Scott said the awards show how multi-faceted black women are. She most enjoyed hearing Davis' speech during the ceremony, calling it "super powerful and invigorating."

Bond said the honorees are "women who support women" and understand the importance of paying it forward and passing on their wisdom.

"I want our young girls to be inspired to not settle for being less than their best selves," Bond said. "I want them to feel proud of who they are and who they can be and who we have been."

While the organization continues to promote positive images of women in media, the nonprofit's biggest mission is to provide a boost to girls and teens of color through the arts and mentoring programs.

Black Girls Rock! mentors youth in the New York City area every weekend through DJ training classes, poetry and writing workshops, and "Taste the World," which introduces different cultures through food with visits to restaurants.

The group launched the Queens' Camp over the summer, a leadership program where 30 girls from across the country participated in team building and trust activities, fishing, hiking, arts and crafts, animal care and volunteering with autistic children. It also started the Black Girls Rock! and Soul Tour, a platform to showcase new and established artists who perform alternative rock and soul music. The bill included Badu, Fiona and Estelle.

Bond said she'd love for the organization to grow as big as the Girl Scouts or the Boys and Girls Club one day.

"What we teach our girls is basic stuff: the importance of integrity, the importance of responsibility and accountability, the importance of your choices, having high standards. It's basic stuff but unfortunately a lot of that basic stuff is not being promoted to our girls. It's basic tools for winning," she said. "And I think it's important that we don't assume they know it."

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