Originally Posted 11/2011
Yesterday I had the pleasure of catching up with BLACK GIRLS ROCK! founder, CEO and executive producer, Beverly Bond. BLACK GIRLS ROCK! (BGR!) is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering women of color across the globe. Rather than using negative life experiences to motivate and inspire, the uplifting movement focuses on elevating positive images and role models to inspire greatness within young girls between the ages of 12-17. Although many of us know of BGR! from their annual award show aired on BET, I was surprised to learn of the intricacies of the brand and of all the other irons Beverly has in the fire. This model, turned DJ, turned mogul is a powerhouse and natural to boot! Enjoy!
CN: How did you first conceive of the organization, or the movement that is Black Girls Rock!?
BB: It started all at once... in one sitting. It was a T-Shirt slogan idea that in that moment morphed into the bigger idea of a non-profit organization and award show to empower young women of color. I felt that all of those things were needed and the slogan itself lends itself to thinking that big. I was sitting down designing the T-Shirt ideas and I was like, this is bigger than a T-shirt… it’s an affirmation that all of our women, our girls, from grandmothers to newborns, need to hear, because it’s not a message that we’re getting. It’s not a message that has been heard in our community… that we rock. The message that we had been hearing was it’s acceptable to be unacceptable.
CN: You’re a DJ too, right? How did you make the leap over into this ‘empowerment’ space? Was there any one moment that led you down this road?
BB: As a DJ, of course I’m paying attention to a lot of the music and messaging more so than a lot of other people. And there were some very harmful things being said to women and women of color… there were some very harmful images, some very imbalanced messages that were being sent to our community. In particular, telling our girls that their worth was in their physical self and not in their whole self.
CN: From what I've read, there's a lot going on behind the scenes. Tell us about your other endeavors.
BB: Since 2006 I've headed the New York City-based arts and mentoring program, designed to develop girls into future leaders. That continues and is the crux of what we do.
I'm excited to share that this year we kicked off the Black Girls Rock! & Soul Tour, presented by Chey in Los Angeles - headlined by Erykah Badu. The concert celebrates women of color in the alternative rock and soul music genres for both emerging and established artists. The second tour stop took place in Washington DC during the Congressional Black Caucus headlined by Melanie Fiona, followed by NYC with Estelle. Trust that next year we're taking them to another level.
BGR! presented our first Queen's Camp: For Leadership & Excellence Summer Camp – a two-week intensive leadership program, designated for exemplary teenage girls (aged 12-17) of color from various social, economic and geographic backgrounds. Thirty applicants this year were awarded full scholarships through the generous support of private donors and corporate sponsors.
CN: What impact do you want BGR! to make on the world?Where do you see yourself and the movement 5 years from now?
BB: I would like to expand BGR! with BGR! Cultural Centers all over the world. There is a definite need. We’ve been mentoring girls since 2006 however with the award show, it’s actually expanded our reach and because of that, it’s also expanded the demand for our services. People feel like BGR is a way to penetrate our youth and encourage them to tap into being their greatest selves. So we get hit from all over the world, like ‘when can we start here’, ‘when can we start there’.
My larger goal is to start an academy, or a school to really help to bring the best of the best and have these girls be the leaders that we know they can be, if they have the encouragement and proper backing. I think that’s one of the most important goals of what Black Girls Rock! is doing. In everything we do, whether it be the award show or the merchandising, it’s all leading back to this message of empowerment, and it’s all leading back to support this expansion.
CN: Any advice for CurlyNikki readers with the entrepreneurial spirit?
BB: You’ve gotta believe in what it is that you’re doing. From the outside looking in, you’d think that BGR! has all of these people behind it that are making this thing move, and we’re really still a very grass roots organization. I put everything... I mean, just not my own financial support toward the organization, but also all of my time, I do everything. I’ve done every single job from folding the T-shirts to answering the phone. You must be hands on for every single aspect of the job, you can’t just say, ‘I want to be a boss’. I wake up now and I’m like, the world is viewing me differently [laughter], but it’s not like I took the moment to think about that, I just was doing what I do, and I’m passionate about what I do and I knew that it needed to be done. I think that if you believe in whatever your dream is, you need to tap into what you need to do to make it happen. And on those days that you're kinda feeling down, you have to find a way to believe even more. There have been days…lots of days and times where I feel like I may have taken on too much, but then what motivates me is that this has to happen. Like I can’t stop… I can’t not do this. I gotta do what I gotta do. I’ve taken DJ gigs that I would never take just to keep the programs running on Saturday. Like stuff I would never do [laughter]. Looking back at it, I think that everybody that really believes in what they do… everybody that has fire in their spirit and a passion, they make it happen.
A lot of people who want to be an entrepreneur, want to be their own boss, assume they can skip steps and you can’t do that. They think that because, 'I don’t want to work for cooperate America, I want to do my own thing'… it's that simple. It's not. The value is not in skipping the steps. Your journey is just as important. Everything that you do along the way is what’s helping you to become more empowered, helping you to get stronger and helping you get better at what it is that you’re doing. It's like the book, The Value in the Valley.
CN: Can't let you go without asking, word on the street is that you’re natural?!
BB: I am natural! I don’t perm… relax, whatever [laughter]. I’ve always rocked my hair natural and curly and I also get Blowouts. I do weaves only because I’m on stage quite frequently. I have a girl that's so good at it that you don’t even know when I’m in it or when I’m out. I have such a head full of hair that she has to put this protective cap thing on my hair just to keep it down in order to get the weave on my head. What’s funny is that I had been weaving and got a little bit addicted to the stuff. I had been weaving and weaving and I would only come out to go back in. One time she couldn’t do my hair and I took my hair out and went to the Dominican Salon for a blow out. I go there a lot and they know me… they blow my weaves out. So I go there and she blows my real hair out and it’s down way past my shoulders. The woman looks at me like, ‘mami are you crazy?! Why do you wear weaves?’ It’s so funny, because I had became so addicted to the weaves that I had forgotten that I had all this hair! It was to the point where my hair was longer than the weave that I had in my head. But I say that to say, I love my curls and I think that we need to spend more time with our natural hair to learn what it does. I’m not saying you can’ t change it up, I’m just saying that when you chemically change it you can’t do all the fun and wonderful things you can do when your hair is natural.
I think that the more we know about our hair the more we can take better care of it and keep it healthier. I don't judge women that have relaxers... just like I weave because I don’t have time to do my hair, they have reasons for their choices.
We’ve been sold so many versions of who we are and we’ve never been told about our natural beauty, especially here. So it’s unfortunate but a lot of us don’t neceassarly embrace all of that about ourselves. Natural hair rocks!
CN: Any fave products?
BB: I love Aveda products especially their Humectant. It absorbs well and it’s really good for curly hair. With natural hair, it seems like it absorbs everything you put on it... I love conditioning my hair and having the feeling that my hair is really healthy. I did notice too, one of the reasons I put my hair under [Laughter], that’s what I call the weaving process, is because I do find that sometimes, especially in the winter, because my hair is so curly, it lends itself to breaking. I have to be careful and condition, and condition some more.
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