This is Why We Rock

THIS IS WHY WE ROCK: Awards Edition

On the night of the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Awards, the girls enrolled in our DJ 101 and I Rhyme Like a Girl programs experienced the excitement of viewing the honorees from their seats in the audience in addition to performing on-stage! Talented poet and DJ in-training, 15-year-old Emily Carpenter, breaks it down for us in her own words:

Black Girls Rock Awards: My experience

by Emily Carpenter

Bright lights, beautiful people, and red velvet cupcakes! Those were the first three words that popped into my head as I walked in to the New York Times building. It was absolutely amazing, waiting downstairs for a chance to be ushered upstairs; I have to admit I was nervous. The fact that all these people were here to support us and Beverly’s vision excited me, but that added to my fright. Would they like our performance? Would it inspire them to look into their pockets? It was all unknown. I just had to relax, take a deep breath, and chill with all the other girls.

While waiting downstairs, we were constantly running in and out of the bathroom. Did our hair look right? What was the better side to face the audience with? How should we look at all the cameras when we’re in pictures? Still, no matter how much we talked we wouldn’t know until the show began.

BGR members pose for the camera before their performance

BGR members pose for the camera before their performance

Getting quite restless, we all stood on the stairs and began snapping as many photos as we could, trying to savor every moment. Click, Clack, Click, Clack. Someone was walking towards us; “ Do y’all have your tickets. I’m here to escort you upstairs.” We all looked at each other – this was it. The show we’d all fantasized about, the moment we danced in anticipation for was here right before our faces. We grinned and followed her up the stairs and into the theater.

When in the theater, the lights suddenly got dimmer and a woman in yellow started to dance. While she danced, a song played in the background saying, “Ain’t she beautiful, Ain’t she Black,” in different ways until the message could be read on an entire different spectrum as when the song started out. It was really moving, and we all knew that this was going to be a show that we would remember for the rest of our lives, and we were given the opportunity to partake. It was very exciting!

The range of people honored made me feel honor. Even though there were many big names in the room that night, the common theme of Empowerment connected us all.

Sonia Sanchez’s speech/poem moved me so much! It was amazing to see a petite woman who people might not expect to have much strength have so much force, power, and just the flat ability to rock!

BGR members pose with Sonia Sanchez

BGR members pose with Sonia Sanchez

Everyone’s speeches were inspiring, but suddenly I was tapped on the shoulder and we quietly tip-toed backstage. Everyone in the line was nervous, but I think we knew deep down that we could do it. “ AND that’s why we ROCK…!” Suddenly, we were ushered on stage. This was it. The nervousness began to melt away, and was replaced with a warmth. On this stage was where we belonged.

Emily (in Red) and other BGR! Members perform "Young, Gifted, and Black"

Emily (in Red) and other BGR! Members perform "Young, Gifted, and Black"

The lights were so bright, I could barley see past the first three rows in the audience. But as I kept looking at them, I felt as though our words and our message were important. Looking in the front row as I spoke, I realized that Mary J. Blige was sitting and listening intently in the front row. It took all my strength not to burst in cheers of joy! I would have never thought that someone that I had watched on TV, someone that I listened to on the radio, would be sitting there watching me, watching us. That was definitely one of my most memorable moments.

The rest of the night seemed to speed by, but I was racing right alongside it. From Doug E. Fresh’s DOPE intro, to Queen Latifah’s moving speech, to Janelle Monae’s absolutely PHENOMENAL PERFORMANCE. I was afraid that I missed her after the awards show ended. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to take a picture with her, I got the chance to let her know her presence was appreciated.

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae performs

The night was great, and I would like to thank every soul who attended that night. The energy definitely was right, and I look forward to many more opportunities for us to empower and speak to one another. Thanks.


THIS IS WHY WE ROCK: Mercy’s Hair Story

Last Sunday, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Inc. held a graduation ceremony for the members of our DJ 101 Program. Some of the girls wrote wonderful, heartwarming pieces that they shared with everyone in attendance. Mercy’s story strikes a chord with every women of color, so we decided to share that story here on the blog. Enjoy!

Accept Yourself, Not the Stereotypical Pretty Girl

By Mercy Carpenter

After eleven years of Mercy bugging her mom to straighten her hair, “Ow, ow, ow,” Mercy screamed.

But the hair dresser just shrugged and said, “It doesn’t hurt that much. I just put the relaxer in.”

Mercy started to get angry, so Michael, the hair dresser, put Mercy’s head in the sink. She stopped panicking and her grimace turned into a relaxed smile as the cold water skipped happily over her burning scalp.

“Am I done yet?” Mercy asked impatiently, waiting to see how she looked with “pretty” hair.

“Yes, you’re done. You can thank me after you look in the mirror.”

Eager to see herself in the mirror, she ran, smiling, and tripped. She frowned at herself, thinking that she always ruined a good moment. As she patted her hair, smoothing it down, the sound of her mother’s quick, sharp voice startled her.

“Mercy don’t you want it to last until the morning? Honey, don’t mess it up.”

Mercy fixed the buttons on her shirt, walked towards her jacket, slipped it on and waited for her mom to pay Michael. She quietly tried to hide her excitement about the “new her”. All Mercy could think about was how she always wanted straight hair. She’d had a whole life of put downs targeted at her hair. Mercy went home after that exciting day of having her hair done.

She thought her hair was ugly because of all the girls she saw in commercials, movies and different ads that promoted straight hair (never her kind of hair). That night she slept uncomfortably trying to keep her hair from being destroyed by her wild sleep habits. When Mercy woke up, after she finished her rant about having to wake up so early, she took off her scarf to be surprised her hair had stayed so nicely. Her mom combed through her now straightened hair. Mercy put on her new outfit, brushed her braces until she could see herself clearly in them. She was ready for graduation day. When she got to school she was greeted by, “ I like your hair better like this,” or an occasional, “Omg, Mercy’s hair is fixed.” Mercy felt as if she was one with the crowd. Now she could wear her hair free without someone messing it up, or humidity trying to and winning.

When Mercy washed her hair, it didn’t turn out well. She took a look in the mirror and shrieked ,“It… it is ruined…m-m-m…my hair!” With frequent sobs, she ran out of the bathroom and into the living room to tell her mom about her hair. But her mother’s expression remained calm, waiting for her daughter to calm down. Then her mother said, “When we got your hair straightened, it ruined your ends. We might just have to cut it.”

Mercy interrupted, terrified. “ Why? No. Please, no. I just want my regular hair back.”

Later on that day, Mercy was thinking about her hair and how it is part of her heritage. Mercy is proud of her heritage because it is a mixture of Native American , Nigerian and European. If she straightened her hair, maybe no one would know how proud she actually is. She was sure that no one could ever convince her again that her kind of hair is ugly. Even with all the commercials, ads and confused people she hears, she will always be herself. And even though she tried to camouflage herself before, she realized she would always be herself from now on.


THIS IS WHY WE ROCK: Presenting the Class of 2009!

On Sunday, September 20, 2009, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Inc. held its first ever graduation ceremony to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of our 11 participants who successfully completed the DJ 101 program this past year. Their families, friends, and even some of their principals attended! Held at Scratch DJ Academy’s New York headquarters, the 6-week comprehensive music program incorporates technical DJ training and musical production education for girls enrolled in BLACK GIRLS ROCK! programs. Graduates received registered certificates marking their completion of the 6-week course.

Will Corbett of DJ Scratch Academy

Will Corbett of DJ Scratch Academy

Following a welcoming address by BLACK GIRLS ROCK! founder DJ Beverly Bond, Academy Director of Scratch DJ Academy, Will Corbett, described his admiration for Bond’s organization, stating that Jam Master Jay founded the DJ Academy for the same reasons Beverly started BLACK GIRLS ROCK!: to provide arts programs for an underserved community who should have more opportunities to contribute to a culture which they created.

Thembisa Mshaka

Thembisa Mshaka

Thembisa Mshaka, Copy Director for BET Networks and author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, gave the keynote address to the graduates. Mshaka read excerpts from her newly published book, highlighting that women often have to work harder to showcase their talents but that we should always be up for the challenge. Mshaka ended her address by shouting, “When I say, ‘Black Girls,’ you say, ‘Rock!’” – A perfect call-and-response to close out her call-to-action.

Councilwoman Letitia James

Councilwoman Letitia James

The surprise of the afternoon came when Bond invited Brooklyn Council Member Letitia James to the podium. James had originally said she wouldn’t be able to attend the event because of a prior engagement, but stated that she left early to attend our graduation because something had been “nagging her.” That something dawned on James when she looked around at the event she was attending and didn’t see any young Black girls. Her following words were powerful and inspiring:

“Young Black girls rarely…enter into the psyche of those in power, but you were in the back of my mind today and that’s why I wanted to come here this afternoon…I came here today because I wanted to see some young Black girls break open these doors and break open the ceiling…I wanted to join with each and every one of you [and] I wanted to see all the young Black women that are about to rock this world!”

In a closing address that also looked toward the future Bond stated,

Founder Beverly Bond makes closing statements

Founder Beverly Bond makes closing statements

“It is so important that we nurture and develop the creative talents of the next generation, for they will be tomorrow’s leaders and the future curators of our culture. However, it is not enough that we support their artistic endeavors without also teaching them the importance of artistic integrity and high standards. We have to challenge the next generation to not just want to be seen and to not just want to be famous but to have the utmost respect for the artistic endeavors that they wish to pursue and then commit themselves to the intentional pursuit of excellence so that outstanding quality shows in their workmanship and in all that they do.”

And that’s certainly what these graduates are already doing! According to testimonials from parents and principals of the girls enrolled in BLACK GIRLS ROCK! programs, the creative work that we’re doing has enhanced their attitudes about themselves and their futures, built their confidence, enhanced their social skills, given them purpose and drive, and made them more compassionate individuals.

We’re very proud of that and we’re very proud of them!

Check out some more pictures of the ceremony below:

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