The simplest ideas are often the ones that catch on. That has certainly been the case for Beverly Bond, the DJ and founder of Black Girls Rock! — a movement that was first conceived as a T-shirt slogan.
Since 2006 Bond has headed her New York City-based arts and mentoring program, designed to develop girls into future leaders. In 2010 she partnered with BET for the Black Girls Rock! Awards show, honoring exceptional women at the top of their games. The special's second edition airs on BET Nov. 6.
For this week's Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference, Bond brought the movement to D.C. On Thursday she appeared on the panel "African American Girls: Leadership and Resilience," sponsored by the Girl Scouts of USA and BET, and hosted the Black Girls Rock! & Soul Tour, presented by Chevy, featuring singer Melanie Fiona and DJ Spinderella of Salt-N-Pepa.
The Root caught up with Bond (on Twitter @beverlybond) about the impact her organization is having, partnering with BET and why we shouldn't get overly excited about reports on the confidence of African-American girls.
The Root: In terms of starting Black Girls Rock! was there a tipping point, or state of affairs, that made you think, "We need this"?
Beverly Bond: There were a number of tipping points. The conversation was going on for a long time among women. We were all talking about the images that we were seeing of ourselves — from being scantily clad vixens as roles in music videos to the degrading lyrical content of a lot of songs — and barely seeing our image anywhere else. It was just insult on top of insult.
I thought, "How tragic that this is how they tell our story." I also thought, "We as grown women are able to navigate through this and say that we know who we are. But how do our girls see this, and how do our boys see our girls because of this messaging?" All of those things were heavily on my mind.
When I decided to do Black Girls Rock! I initially thought it would be a cool T-shirt. But I realized it was bigger than a T-shirt. This is an affirmation that our women have not heard ever, and that our girls need to hear coming up. From there came the idea of a mentoring program for young girls, to give them some direction and let them know how special they are.
I thought it was going to change the game — not even knowing how big it was really going to get. But in my mind I thought it would be their sense of what's cool. Being at the top of your game — that's cool. That's what makes you hot.
TR: The panel you're speaking on is based on a recent Girl Scout Research Institute study that found that black and Latina girls aspired to leadership roles more often than white girls, and actually rated themselves higher in overall confidence. What do you think of these findings?
BB: I think it's fortunate that a lot of African Americans do aspire to lead because they're often affirmed by their parents, black mamas and other stakeholders in the community. Sometimes that confidence also needs the tools to make their goals come into fruition. Even though our girls are confident, we have to look at whether their aspirations are being realized.
We have to look at the numbers in education, where we see that African-American girls' graduation rate is lower than that of other girls. We have to look at the health disparities. We have to look at what's happening in leadership roles in corporate America, where only 5.3 percent of all management professionals are African-American women. Where is that disconnect happening? How are our girls being led astray?
It's a plus for them to start with such confidence and to have stakeholders in their lives that make them feel that. But I think we need to give our kids the tools to make measurable progress in reasonable time so that they become more valuable citizens and future leaders.
TR: How has your mentoring program made that difference?
BB: I see them understanding the importance of work ethic. In our DJ workshop, they come in just thinking it's a cool thing, but then they see the practice that goes into it, and how that ties into the conversations we have about integrity and high standards and working hard. I watch them get better.
I have one girl — she's a brilliant child who hadn't been challenged. She wasn't coming to DJ class, and all the girls thatstarted with her had moved on to the advanced class. She went to the advanced class with them, and the instructor told me that some of them couldn't drop it on the one, which is a very basic DJ move. I said that anyone who couldn't do that yet shouldn't be in the class, and it's better to learn your craft and go back.
She admitted that it was her, took herself out of that classroom and said that she couldn't be in there because she wasn't ready yet. I was so proud of her for that, for not wanting to hang out and skip the steps, but wanting to be great at what she does.
TR: Next month you're taping the second annual Black Girls Rock! Awards show, following the huge ratings success of last year's special. When you first started talking with BET, was it a challenge at all to get them onboard with your particular vision?
BB: We'd been in talks with BET since 2007. Stephen Hill [president of programming, music and specials] had been coming to our awards shows before they were televised, so it was clear that I had a vision that wasn't to be compromised. I understood that I was going into an entertainment entity and that they have needs to make their things pop. But they understood that we had integrity and a bar that we weren't going to lower.
I don't think everybody there knew what the brand is, and that we lived outside of the TV show, so there was definitely some educating people. I also don't think they predicted those numbers for the first year. It took a minute, but it's OK. Because now they get it.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.