NEW YORK — On a windy Saturday last month, the Paradise Theater in the Bronx was an undulating sea of sequins, stilettos and star power as the 2011 edition of Black Girls Rock! got under way.
An annual celebration of the accomplishments of black women in a myriad of spheres, from science and technology to the arts and politics, the event is the brainchild of philanthropist Beverly Bond, a onetime model/DJ. Imagine balling up the sentiments of your favorite empowerment anthem into a fist and then sprinkling them like confetti over a gathering of girls, and you might begin to get an idea of what it felt like to sit in that majestic theater during the taping of the show that night. You'll get to see for yourself when it airs Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on BET.
Actresses Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King opened their co-hosting gig — dressed in an ebony gown and an ivory sequined pantsuit, respectively — with some funny banter about their mutual connection to all-grown-up "Cosby" kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Ellis Ross plays Warner's wife on the brand-new BET sitcom "Reed Between the Lines," while King is his real-life leading lady). Over the course of the night, with assists from a series of celeb presenters like former MTV VJ LaLa Anthony and model Alek Wek, "BGR" '11 gave special nods to some much-deserving honorees. MTV News rode the D train to the Grand Concourse in the BX and previewed some of the highlights for you.
Any R&B diva worth her salt has at least one love-yourself tune to her credit, but if you're [artist id="854"]Mary J. Blige[/artist], the undisputed queen of hip-hop/soul, then you've got a catalog full of certified classics guaranteed to cure Superwoman syndrome. Fans were treated to a rousing, show-closing set that included MJB's "My Life" and "Just Fine." Soul sisters like [artist id="960873"]Jill Scott[/artist] (the poetic "Womanifesto") and [artist id="872"]Erykah Badu[/artist] (an intergalactic "On and On") are just a few of the stirring performers who pass the baton to upstarts like Elle Varner and Melanie Fiona.
Who Run the World?
Yes, there was a 70-something gospel legend and a duo of trailblazing activists battling violence against women as part of the Rebecca Project, but some of the most impressive award recipients were girls barely out of their tweens. M.A.D. (Making a Difference) Girl honoree Leanna Archer, became CEO of her own natural hair-care products company at 13, and now just 15, heads up a foundation devoted to helping underprivileged kids in Haiti.
While some of us are confronting the so-called "quarterlife-crisis" or maybe occupying Wall Street at 25, Angela Davis had just hit the quarter-century mark when she began building a formidable career as an activist, aligning with movements like the Black Panther Party. The Brandeis-educated Davis went on to spend the next few decades crusading for marginalized groups like African-Americans, women and prisoners.
The winner of this year's Icon Award admitted she used to feel "embarrassed" seeing her face staring back at her from T-shirts until she realized that the garments represented the "translation of the success of a movement." That's real girl power, and theatergoers thanked her (fists raised) with a standing ovation.
Co-hosts Ellis Ross and King weren't the only big- and small-screen stars to grace the stage. Taraji P. Henson was honored with the Star Power prize. The actress was already a young mom to a son when she got to Hollywood, but it was her fictional role as mom to A-lister Brad Pitt in the "Curious Case of Benjamin Button" that earned her an Oscar nod in 2008 for Best Supporting Actress. In an upbeat acceptance speech, the extroverted Henson reminisced about praying for "longevity" back in those early casting call days.
Catch "Black Girls Rock!" Sunday on BET at 8 p.m. ET.