When celebrity deejay, producer and philanthropist Beverly Bond founded Black Girls Rock, she wanted to promote a message she thought was missing in society: Black girls can rule the world.
“I started Black Girls Rock because I love us and I believe in us,” Bond said at the sixth annual celebration, which BET aired on Tuesday, April 5. “I want us to walk righteous in our spirit. Own your magic, walk in your purpose, rock in your truth.”
Black Girls Rock is more than an awards show. It’s a way of life. That’s why the show honored women who prove there are many different ways to rock. From stars like Amandla Stenberg to the founders of Black Lives Matter, these winners embrace sisterhood and use their platform to invoke worldwide, positive change.
Actress and producer Tracee Ellis Ross returned to host the show for the sixth time. In a bold red cat-suit and braided wig, Ross performed a tribute to the musicians who inspire her—including her mother, Diana Ross.
Throughout the night, the honorees promoted a message of unapologetic self-love. As writer Shonda Rhimes accepted her Shot Caller Award, she encouraged girls to take risks and empower themselves.
“Your slates are blank,” said Rhimes. “Your paths are clear and your stories are whatever you want them to be. You are the builders of the 21st Century.”
Walking Dead actress Danai Gurira won the Star Power award for being as much of a maverick as her katana-wielding character, Michonne. She had a heartfelt message to black girls trying to thrive in a confusing, challenging world.
“I know it can get downright ugly,” said Gurira. “I have walked the path, or some version of it, but know you are designed for greatness. And black girl, you rock because you have so much potential. Your power and your resilience will help to heal this world.”
For the founders of Black Lives Matter, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors, healing the world is their mission in life.
“We did not start the black liberation movement, but we are honored to contribute,” said the winners of the Change Agent award. “Our fight is grounded in the pursuit of dignity and sanctity of all Black lives.”
When she won the night’s Rock Star award, Work singer Rihanna thanked her mother and grandmother, two of the strongest black women in her life, for raising her to question the status quo.
“Hopefully someday I’ll be raising my own little black girl who rocks,” said Rihanna. The crowd erupted in applause.
Rihanna and her fellow winners rock because they do what they love, and share it with their community. She believes each girl has a purpose, and she urged those listening to her speech to find their own. What has kept Rihanna sane, humble, and successful throughout a whirlwind career has been staying true to herself, she told the crowd.
“The minute you learn to love yourself, you would not want to be anybody else,” said Rihanna.
The night featured performances by dynamic divas like Gladys Knight, Brandy, and Ms. Lauren Hill, and a speech from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Clinton may not be a black girl, but she is an ally to their movement.
“There are still a lot of barriers holding back African-Americans and black women in particular,” said Clinton, “So a gathering like this filled with so many powerful, strong women is a rebuke to every single one of those barriers.”
M.A.D. (Making a Difference) Girls Who Rock was a special award given to young girls who embody the message of using talent to promote social change.
- Eleven-year-old Marley Dias made headlines for launching #1000BlackGirlBooks in 2015, a movement to collect and donate children’s books featuring black girls as the protagonist.
- At just 16, Maya Penn is a CEO. She founded Maya’s Ideas, an eco-friendly clothing company. When she’s not running a business that donates company profits to charity, she spends her time coding, illustrating, and writing books for Simon & Schuster.
- Haile Thomas is a 15-year-old youth health advocate, motivational speaker, teen vegan chef, and founder-executive director of HAPPY Organization, Inc. Her efforts to promote healthy living among young people earned her the respect of first lady Michelle Obama.
Putting such a diverse array of powerful girls together under one roof truly made for a magical evening.
“All girls rock,” said Rihanna. “Black girls, we’re just on another level.”
Visit BET.com for show clips, plus a list of the winners.