The Root 100 Close-Up: Beverly Bond

The Black Girls Rock! founder spins positive message to fight negative images of women in media.

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Kea Taylor/Imagine Photography

There's a lot more to being a DJ than rockin' a crowd on the dance floor. You have to scour the flea markets for hard-to-get vinyl, keep up-to-date on new releases, put together signature mixes and somehow establish your own recognizable brand.

There's also, says veteran DJ Beverly Bond, the delicate task -- particularly if you're a female spinner -- of learning how to tiptoe through the gender-politics minefield lurking beneath those jumpy musical sounds you play. Like, how do you balance your own aversion to misogynist lyrics with your audience's demand for the hot new beat of the moment, whether it's insulting to women or not?

"As a DJ, you're right in the line of fire with a lot of these media messages," says Bond, one of the 2011 The Root 100 honorees, who created the nonprofit educational organization Black Girls Rock! five years ago to combat negative images of black girls and women in the media. After more than a decade as a celebrity DJ, Bond has been through all of the ins and outs as a party spinner, earning a reputation as a master of the craft.

Back when she was first getting started with clients like Sarah Jessica Parker, Alicia Keys and others, Bond became acutely attuned to those "media messages." "Naturally, as a DJ, you pay a lot more attention to the lyrical content in the music," she says.

Treatment of women as the subject of various male artists' lyrics? Not so good. There was, for example, that segment of the entertainment industry that persistently referred to women as "hos" and "bitches." There were gratuitous references to specific women's anatomy. And there was an assumption that women should sit in the backseat and keep quiet. And some of the attitudes were coming from women themselves, Bond says.

There's a kind of Stockholm syndrome at work here, Bond suggests. "A lot of girls are almost co-signing the negativity," she says.

The condescension, the insulting language and the casual objectification of women all started to gnaw at Bond until she started Black Girls Rock! At first, it was just a T-shirt that you could buy on Bond's website. "But this was bigger than a T-shirt," she says.

The idea isn't to attack the promoters of misogyny so much as to affirm positive images and celebrate admirable role models, Bond says. And it's catching on globally. "You can see it in the response we're getting from the entire world," she says. " 'Black girls rock' is becoming what 'black is beautiful' was in the '60s and '70s."

The woman who started all of this was born in New York but spent most of her young life in Maryland, either with her footloose, single-parent mom or with relatives to whom she had been farmed out. Shy, inevitably picked on as the new girl in school, Bond took refuge in the eclectic music her mother always had around, from Kurtis Blow to Hugh Masekela to the latest world-music phenomenon that blew in from some distant land. The instability of her early years somehow got turned into a positive, she says. "It made me an independent thinker," she says, "I didn't go with the crowd."

By the time she was 17, Bond was ready to go out on her own. A statuesque 5-foot-9, with the requisite cheekbones to die for, she signed on as a model with the Wilhelmina agency and Elle New Faces, becoming, among other things, a Guess Jeans girl and a Nike model. She also became a frequenter of the New York club scene.

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