Black Girls Rock! celebrates the power and beauty of Black women every year, but this year’s celebration was like no other as First Lady Michelle Obama took to the stage to remind young women of color that Black girls can rock in entertainment, STEM, education and even the White House.
Sisterhood was a clear theme throughout the evening of performances and speeches that were both empowering and entertaining.
The message of the night was even more prominent. Black women are strong, resilient and capable of conquering all the obstacles that a racist, sexist society has stacked against them.
That’s what the nation’s first Black first lady wanted to remind all the women in the room and all the young Black girls around the globe who have battled with the barrage of negative images working to make Black women feel inferior and powerless.
“No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful,” Obama said as she took the stage in a stunning white ensemble, according to the Associated Press. “I am so proud of you. My husband, your president, is so proud of you. We have so much hope and dreams for you.”
As she celebrated three young honorees, she reminded Black girls everywhere that she is no stranger to the voices of doubt and negativity that often discourage women of color.
“I know there are voices that you are not good enough,” she added before explaining that the key is to rise above those voices rather than shy away from them.
Messages of love, adoration and encouragement were beautifully weaved into the First Lady’s speech but it was with three simple words that she sparked what was arguably the loudest, most thunderous round of applause of the night.
“Black girls rock,” she cheerfully exclaimed.
Black girls have heard that slogan before but this marked the first time it was openly declared by the First Lady of the United States.
She also used her time at the ceremony to focus on reestablishing her platform for education and boosting opportunities for women everywhere.
“There is nothing more important then being serious about your education,” she said. “That’s why I am able to stand here tonight…I want every one of our Black girls to do the same, and our Black boys.”
The first lady has always been vocal about the value she puts on education and the sacrifices she made throughout her life to become an Ivy League graduate.
Many of the honorees had similar stories of sacrifice, hard work and perseverance.
Accomplished Black women from a large variety of fields filled the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and prepared to celebrate and honor Black women who were leading the way in their respective fields.
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, songstress Erykah Badu, actress Cicely Tyson, Selma director Ava DuVernay, educator Nadia Lopez and president and CEO of CARE USA Dr. Helene D. Gayle were all honored throughout the nearly 4-hour event for each of their achievements as both professionals and as incredible women.
As the celebrations and good times continued, however, many of the powerful women took the time to remind the massive crowd why an event like Black Girls Rock! is still necessary today.
What seems like a redundant phrase is a simple concept that seems to be overlooked at nearly every turn.
It is easy to see how many ways Black women have defied the odds, conquered unique obstacles and achieved success that they were frequently told would only exist in their most vivid imaginations. Yet it is still too often that a successful Black woman or Black girl finds herself on the receiving end of racially charged backlash, doubt and criticism.
Pinkett noted one of the most recent cases—a college baseball player who hurled a slur at Little League pitching prodigy Mo’ne Davis on Twitter.
It’s these instances, Pinkett explained, that make Black Girls Rock! such a vital annual event that reminds Black women and girls everywhere of just how strong they really are.
“I need you to understand that we are the women who marched from cotton fields into fields of medicine…politics…entertainment,” she said. “We have found a way to march into a White House.”
Tyson added to the sentiments of overcoming adversity by reminding Black women that there is something they need to realize about the targets that have been painted on their backs.
They are being targeted because society is well aware of, and often threatened by, their true potential.
“The moment anyone tries to demean or degrade you in any way, you have to know how great you are,” Tyson said. “Nobody would bother to beat you down if you were not a threat.”
Performances throughout the night called on musical favorites like Jill Scott, Estelle and more.
Black Girls Rock! will air on BET on April 5.