Less than 24 hours after attending the 2015 Black Girls Rock! event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, I’m still in awe of the tremendous inspiration and sisterhood that filled the room.
The star-studded event, which occurred against the backdrop of Women’s History Month, was co-hosted by actresses Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King, who helped celebrate the accomplishments of women of color in education, social justice, music, literature and film.
Honorees included New York City educator Nadia Lopez, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn; actresses Cicely Tyson and Jada Pinkett Smith; singer Erykah Badu; film director Ava DuVernay, whose Selma won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture; and Dr. Helene D. Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, a humanitarian organization.
While most award shows have an element of surprise, there was nothing more special than having perhaps the most prominent “black girl that rocks” take center stage: first lady Michelle Obama, who spoke at the event.
“I know there are voices that you are not good enough,” she said, acknowledging that she often lacked self-confidence while growing up, despite encouraging parents. “No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful.
“I am so proud of you,” the first lady continued. “My husband, your president, is so proud of you. We have so much hope and dreams for you.”
Obama concluded her speech by stressing the importance of education, saying that three teenage honorees were able to accomplish their dreams through the resources of their education.
Beverly Bond, founder and creator of Black Girls Rock!, cited the presence of the first lady at the event to illustrate how much her group has grown since its inception in 2006.
“It’s incredible that we are doing something that is being recognized by the first lady,” she told The Root. “The work that we’ve been doing, [have] always been doing, has been about elevating our youth and helping them understand the importance of excellence and integrity and work ethic. That’s what we do with our program, and [first lady Michelle Obama] shares a vested interest in youth education and empowerment. It’s pretty awesome to be in line with that.”
One of the most touching moments of the evening came when actor and entrepreneur Will Smith paid tribute to his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who received the Star Power Award. He spoke tearfully about their 20-year relationship and seized the moment to dismiss tabloid divorce rumors.