James Brown's anthem "Say it Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud" pumped from the speakers as some of the best in Black womanhood entered the Lincoln Center for the 3rd Annual Black Girls Rock! Awards in New York City. As Erykah Badu, Iman, fashion designer Tracy Reese, Pam Grier and more sauntered to their seats for the intimate affair, their pride and power could be felt among the predominantly Black female audience.
"I'm really grateful and thankful to be awarded," said Badu, who is expecting her third child, as she accepted her Rock Star Award. "I don't take it for granted at all. Before I was a recording artist, I was a teacher and once I got on stage, it was therapy for me. Sometimes it's hard to grow, and it's definitely hard to grow publicly. I appreciate you all being patient. It's so rewarding when you are given something that means a lot from your peers and your elders."
In an industry where women of color are often marginalized to stereotypes and called too Black or too bold, the event-created by DJ Beverly Bond and her foundation, Black Girls Rock! Inc.-celebrated movers and shakers who help redefine the image of sisters.
Activist Kevin Powell presented the late Sean Bell's fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, and his mother, Valerie Bell, with the Monument Award for their dedication to continuing to fight for justice. "It's important we keep Sean's memory alive and his death not be in vain," Paultre-Bell told ESSENCE.com. "I have two young daughters and I hope one day they will be proud I got this award. I'm thankful I have them."
Susan L. Taylor, the evening keynote speaker and ESSENCE's former editorial director, applauded Bond and such honorees as Rachel Lloyd and the evening's sole male honoree, Khary Lazarre White, for their tireless dedication to fostering change and challenged the room to be the change the Black community needs.
"We know Barack is going to be our president, but Barack Obama can't change our lives," said Taylor. "I'm not pointing the finger at the White House or politicians. I'm looking in the mirror and I'm looking at you. I'm asking you to do the extraordinary."
Tracy Reese presented Bethann Hardison with the Shot Caller Award for her commitment to increasing the presence of Black models on the runways, and actress Kenya Moore brought stylist June Ambrose to the stage to present her with the night's Fashionista Award. Veteran actor Melvin Van Peebles, with help from Faith Evans, presented Pam Grier with the Living Legend Award and jokingly shared how the Original Foxy Brown made his "liver quiver" the first time he witnessed her in action onscreen with her style and presence.
"I am Iman. I am African and a drug dealer," the supermodel declared while accepting the Social Humanitarian Award from Veronica Webb and sharing the importance of the fight against AIDS. Another heartfelt acceptance speech was delivered by the world's fastest amputee, April Holmes, who exemplified perseverance and grace as she accepted the Become Legendary Award and confessed to Erykah Badu that her song "Bag Lady" was an inspiration to her during her recovery. Singers Bilal, Floetry's Marsha Ambrosius, ESSENCE Young Women's Leadership Conference performer Suai, and Faith Evans (who delivered a surprise performance) kept the crowd entertained when host Regina King wasn't cracking jokes.
"I'm working these Stuart Weitzman," King told ESSENCE.com with a laugh. "It's wonderful to celebrate women openly and pay homage to the spirit that connects us all, and I will keep coming back."