Years ago, DJ Beverly Bond preferred to hide. She’d slip behind turntables, tilting her head low, staring at records while mixing and scratching. Bond never dared to grab the mic. She never wanted to motivate the crowd. And today, remnants of that shy girl still come alive at times when her voice shakes. It quivers with each nervous, slow, syllable spoken through initial pleasantries taken at the interview’s start. Until suddenly, a gear shifts. And her slow, careful speech pattern picks up pace, zooming past periods, spaces, commas, and breathing. All because of the passion for one action: Talking about her non-profit turned TV awards show, “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!”
“So I was sitting at my kitchen table, and I’m designing my idea for this t-shirt [that features] all the black girls who rocked. I’m going through the names of all the black women I could think of in my life who rocked in history, who were and were not recognizable, but should have been. And as I’m writing all of this down, I stopped and said to my husband, ‘You know what? This is bigger. This is bigger than this t-shirt. I gotta do the awards show and I’ve got to start a mentoring program because these women don’t get recognized in our society. They have contributed to our history and yet they are not held up in the way that they should so our young girls can be inspired to be their best and their greatest selves.’ It was like one big moment that overwhelmed me. And I was obsessed with the whole idea. I called everybody. I knew nothing about non-profits. And at the same time, I worked on the idea [for] the awards show. I was very focused. I had tunnel vision.”
Founded in 2006, “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” began as a non-profit dedicated to inspiring girls of color, through mentoring programs that teach strength, confidence, and perseverance. In 2010, Bond’s upliftment plan expanded to the small screen extending the goal of bringing positive images and messages of strength to children and an audience of millions. Having awarded an assorted list of little known community activists and household names, from Kerry Washington to Alicia Keys. This year’s show will highlight the achievements of people like Queen Latifah, Venus Williams, and activist Marian Wright Edelman
“We knew that what I created was television worthy. Did I know that there was a place or space for “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” on TV? I didn’t know for sure. But if it needed to go anywhere, to me BET was always in my mind, my first choice, although they were not the first to the table,” Bond says of the deal inked three years ago. “This was a long process making sure that the awards show we were creating off TV had the same integrity, power, message, and meaning. Because when you go into an entertainment company, you have to be aware of how you protect your brand and still live in the space, get ratings, grow and have a happy medium and great partnership. So we got to a place where we made magic together. And it’s a beautiful thing, because it spreads the message of “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” And people walk away from the show not [just] impressed with the great performances, but they are really moved by the message.
Anyone with a progressive bone who watches “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!" will feel the need to stretch limbs and move muscle toward figuring out how to do more in their community. Inspiration emanates through the air of this show – whether it be stories of Ameena Matthews who marches into the hood of Chicago fighting gang violence. Or 10-year old Brooklyn Wright, who wrote a book teaching children about the importance of a green and clean environment. The stories will likely make many feel that they are not doing enough. The testimonies will be loud, bright reminders that problems in the world can only be cured with a solution grown from just one bold person brave enough to create a movement.
“I’m going to be a lawyer. A civil rights lawyer,” says 18-year old, Crystal Arim who participated in the “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” summer mentorship program last year. As a child in the Philadelphia system, Crystal found an application to attend the “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” camp online, wrote a few essays about personal mantras and dreams, then went on to spend two weeks partaking in the NYC program. Over fourteen days, she took classes on everything from cultural arts and attaining Ivy League college scholarships to media literacy and robotics. Her attendance of a Trayvon Martin rally and the kindred bonding of connected, supportive energies have inspired Crystal’s need to save the community. “I went to an all-urban neighborhood high school and the sistas there were asking me, “Why are you here? You don’t belong. Why don’t you go to a different school? How did you end up here?” My group of friends were never sistas,” she says. “So by going [to BLACK GIRLS ROCK!] I was just blown away. I met with girls in the program from all over the world, London, South Africa. I couldn’t believe that there were actually young black females out here doing great things that were on my level or even beyond.”
The key to being able to inspire and motivate comes through truth. It appears as a kindred self-reflective vibe that mirrors acceptance of those who’ve walked a similar path. Bond’s experience as a child is familiar to many. “My mom wasn’t always able to care for me or my brothers. And a lot of times we were moved around differently, separately, within family members. I don’t want to say [I was] a foster kid, because I was within my family. But being moved around a lot and being taken from one school to another every year of my life from probably kindergarten to 9th grade, I can admit that it must have had an effect on me. My mom would come and get me. And then she wasn’t able to come, and I’d go back to my grandmother or I’d go to my auntie. I remember it becoming an adventure to me. And I’m not saying that was for everybody, because I know that my brothers did not handle it that way," she recalls. "Everybody has difficult things in their lives. I can sit here and sulk and say, ‘Well, I was moved around all the time.' But I became an independent thinker because I was never part of a crowd. So I think that my spirit, being able to stay true to my essence and innocence in a way [helped]. A lot of times people get corrupted by being in cliques or clouded by other people’s baggage. I didn’t have that. I had to learn to become my own best friend. And a lot of those things made me strong.”
At the taping of this year’s “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” broadcast, Beverly stands on stage in a long, black, ruffled, strapless gown. Her podium faces an audience of thousands mixed with everyday people, industry tastemakers, and an assorted range of familiar limelight faces including NY Knicks coach Mike Woodson, iconic R&B singer Patti Labelle, and actress Keke Palmer. Bond exudes a calm seriousness and stealth composure as she speaks about her goal to counter dark messages across TV screens that bombard babies with visions of violence and hate turned inward and projected as outward brutality and mass mayhem. While spitting this truth, she doesn’t stutter. She never quivers. Her voice is firm and direct proving that through “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” Bond has found a strengthening purpose.
“Even in the process of starting “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” you never saw me speak about it ‘cause I was just too shy. I was too reserved. So I’ve come out of a shell. I do believe that everything happens in your life to help you get to your next self. Every obstacle does have messaging and meaning,” she says. “We are going to continue to expand our mentoring programs and continue to empower our girls and our kids all over the world. We’re becoming a research hub. We want to start the “BLACK GIRLS ROCK!” think tank. We are working on a boys program. We have a lot of things in the works to continue to expand the work, to make sure the message of having our kids understand the importance of raising their bar in a time where too many people are trying to lower the bar for our kids, or send toxic messages to them that don’t help them grow. And they don’t know that until they become adults.”
“Our programs are disciplined. And everything that they learn, even if it’s just DJing, you’re not just learning. It’s not just the cool factor. They have to use both hands doing two things. They have to constantly practice that same scratch over and over until they get it right. They have to listen with two different ears, two different sounds, and pay attention with their eyes to how it’s affecting someone. There’s a process that’s being learned, work ethic, discipline and integrity. And if we can find different ways to teach kids that same message, it’s a great thing.”
Check BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Sunday, November 3, 7P/6C on BET