ABOVE PHOTO: 2015 Black Girls Rock Awardees and presenters: from left, CARE CEO Dr. Helene D. Gayle, singer Erykah Badu, middle school principal Nadia Lopez, First Lady Michelle Obama, Black Girls Rock! hosts Regina King and Tracee Ellis Ross, Black Girls Rock! founder Beverly Bond, BET CEO Debra Lee, director Ava DuVernay, Award winning actress Cicely Tyson.
Interview with Kam Williams
A dynamo in true form, Beverly Bond, has blazed trails in the music, entertainment and social entrepreneurship industries. Her body of work, across sectors, has made her one of the most celebrated DJs and social innovators of our time.
A true music connoisseur, Bond’s passion for music and her uncanny ability to read the crowd has solidified her as one of the premier DJs in the world. Over the last decade, the former Wilhelmina model has brought her versatile talents to the most highly exclusive events and to a myriad of celebrity clients including Prince, Alicia Keys, Sarah Jessica Parker, Erykah Badu, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Derek Jeter, Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Z, Martha Stewart and others.
In 2006, she founded BLACK GIRLS ROCK!, a youth empowerment mentoring organization. Bond simultaneously created the annual BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Awards to celebrate the accomplishments of exceptional women of color who have made outstanding contributions in their careers and stand as inspirational and positive role models in the community.
In 2010, Bond first partnered with BET to air BLACK GIRLS ROCK! On network television. The Awards show went on to receive an NAACP Image Award for outstanding Variety Series or Special.
Bond’s work as a businesswoman, mentor, philanthropist and community leader has earned her a number of prestigious recognitions. EBONY magazine listed Bond on its Power 100 list for five consecutive years. She was also recognized by Ebony as one of the “Most Influential Blacks in America.” And she was recognized as one of Essence magazine’s “40 Fierce and Fabulous Women Who are Changing the World.”
Here, she talks about this year’s BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Awards which aired on BET on Sunday, April 5th at 7 pm ET/PT. Among the many luminaries appearing on the show was First Lady Michelle Obama.
Kam Williams: Hi Beverly, thanks for the interview.
Beverly Bond: Thank you, Kam.
KW: I’ll be mixing my questions in with some sent in by readers. You just taped the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! awards show. Are you still on a high from the event?
BB: Omigosh! I’m still taking it in and trying to process it all.
KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden asks: What was your strongest or most surprising impression of First Lady Michelle Obama?
BB: I think I always knew this about her, although I’d never met her in person until now, but she’s so authentic and genuine. And she’s so sincere and committed to making a difference in the lives of others. She’s a real humanitarian.
KW: Were First Daughters Malia and Sasha in attendance?
BB: No, unfortunately, they couldn’t be there.
KW: How did you come to pick this year’s honorees: director Ava DuVernay, actresses Jada Pinkett Smith and Cicely Tyson, singer Erykah Badu, CARE CEO Dr. Helene D. Gayle and middle school principal Nadia Lopez?
BB: Well, there’s never a shortage of incredible black women who have made major contributions each year. So, we’re constantly monitoring what’s happening in Black Girls’ World, so to speak, and we’re aware that there’s always an abundance of worthy individuals to choose from. It’s a matter of each person’s accomplishments and how current they are. Part of the process has to do with production, and part of it just comes down to who is available and how things fall in place based on the time period you’re looking at. So, yes, there’s a process, but the truth is there are so many amazing black women who have contributed to society who don’t always get a chance to shine. Our mission is to make sure we acknowledge them on our stages.
KW: Well, Ava DuVernay certainly did a phenomenal job shooting Selma, and I thought it was a shame the way she was snubbed by the Oscars, since, in my opinion, she deserved to be the first African-American female nominated in the Best Director category.
BB: Absolutely! In addition there’s all the other tremendous work she does to support up-and-coming filmmakers.
KW: Grace also asks: How difficult and over how many years did it take you to create BLACK GIRLS ROCK! and make it into a social force?
BB: I founded it in 2006, and it was an instant success. I was so driven and so passionate about the necessity of this message that I worked 24 hours a day to make it happen. But it doesn’t feel difficult when it’s your mission and your vision. It’s been a lot of work, but I knew that many people would be into it. Honestly, by 2007, we had the media’s attention already, BET, VH-1 and others, so I knew it was going to be televised. If you believe in something enough, you’re going to make it work. And to me, this was so important because it was about the message to the girls, especially the young girls.
KW: How were you able to sell the idea to BET, given its history of often appealing to the lowest common denominator, as reflected in reality-TV shows and misogynistic music videos?
BB: It wasn’t difficult, because BET obviously needed something like this. It was almost a perfect storm, because we came along at a time when BET was trying to change that image and that message.
KW: How do you respond to the Twitter trend #WhiteGirlsRock which claimed that BLACK GIRLS ROCK! is racist?
BB: I think that when you tune into Black Entertainment Television and you are complaining about black people lifting up black women and celebrating their wonderful accomplishments, your racism is showing all over your face. Did they call in when the images were less than stellar? It is fascinating to me how there’s an uproar whenever it comes to Black people celebrating themselves. So, I pay them no attention, although I did respond once by writing a little article making the point that just because we say that Black girls rock doesn’t mean that you don’t rock, too. But I wonder whether this was really just an attempt to punish us for having the audacity to celebrate ourselves. Everyone’s so used to putting us at the bottom of the barrel that they feel entitled to find our simply saying “We rock!” offensive. I don’t give it too much attention, because it’s really silly, but it does show the privilege and the racism that exists in some circles.
KW: What do you want viewers to take away from BLACK GIRLS ROCK!?
BB: BLACK GIRLS ROCK! really focuses on helping to raise the bar for our kids, because we’ve got to change our culture and make black excellence important again. Literacy should not be a problem for us in 2015. The education gap continues to widen for black kids, and that’s telling. So, we have to figure out how to help our kids to survive and thrive and become trailblazers themselves.
KW: What types of programs do you have at the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! summer camp?
BB: We have a very strong arts education program, plus media literacy, coding, robotics, college prep, empowerment circles, financial literacy and cultural immersion. They start every morning with African dance or yoga, and end their day with Brazilian capoeira, with all that other material in between. It’s a very well-rounded and intensive, two-week experience.
KW: What motivated you to make the move from modeling to music DJ?
BB: I never really left modeling. When I became a DJ, that career took over. I just evolved.
KW: AALBC.com Editor Troy Johnson says: According to government statistics, 72 percent of African-American children are born to unwed mothers. Why do you think this is the case?
BB: Why do I think it’s the case? I think we have a lot of issues in our community, but I can’t say why. I believe there are a lot of pressures that pull us apart as a people, and as families. I think there need to be more messages of black love. And if we don’t start educating our kids early in life about the ways in which they develop relationships with each other, they’re doomed by the time they reach adulthood. When I started BLACK GIRLS ROCK!, I primarily focused on music messages, because I felt so insulted by many of them. I also felt they were sending a dangerous message about how boys should look at girls, about how girls should look at themselves and each other, and about how boys should relate to other boys. I felt like the music was very degrading and violent and scary. And if someone 5 years-old is raised on so much violence and explicit sex, and the suggestion that girls are just there to be used for their bodies, it will warp what they will be like when they grow up and how they will end up treating each other.
KW: Troy also says: African-Americans were able to gain victories 50 to 60 years ago during the Civil Rights Movement, such as the marches in Selma and the successful bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Do you think that this type of activism is still possible today?
BB: Yes, but we have to do it in many different ways. I think Black Girls Rock is revolutionary. And there are other ways to achieve changes in this technological age. For instance, without Twitter, there probably wouldn’t have been such an outcry about Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and so many others. But it’s important to use our voices to speak out and make a difference since, if we don’t do it, no one’s going to do it for us.
KW: Finally, Troy would like to know, what was the last book you read?
BB: Right now, I’m reading “Conversations with God.”
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
BB: “The Blacker the Berry” by Kendrick Lamar.
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Is it still fashionable to use the term ‘girl’?
BB: It is for BLACK GIRLS ROCK! [Laughs]
KW: Larry also says: I shot a popular video of 10 year-old competitive shooter Shyanne Roberts, and followed it up with a video of Shyanne teaching my 7-year-old daughter to shoot a rifle. How do you feel about training young women on the use and safety of firearms?
BB: I can’t answer that question. I’m not a firearms person. Never touched one. I don’t believe in weapons of destruction. I’m not saying whether they’re appropriate for anyone else. That’s just me.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
BB: Probably, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
BB: [LOL] I only cook once a year for Thanksgiving. I get it all out of my system at one time. [Laughs some more]
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
BB: I don’t have a favorite, although there’s one woman, Barbara Bui that I really, really love, because her clothes are structured in a way that I like. They’re really strong.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
BB: Ooh, let me think… [Chuckles] Gosh… I remember when my mother took me to my grandmother’s to stay there and they put me on top of what I though was a really high bed, because from my perspective my feet seemed so far from the floor. I must have been 2-ish, since I was still pick up-able.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
BB: Yeah, I’ve always had this feeling that I’m not here alone. I remember after being taught as a young child that God is everywhere, how I would always sleep in the corner of my bed to leave room for God.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
BB: Somebody who needs some more rest. [Laughs] Someone who is growing into her better self.
KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
BB: It was actually more of a blessing than a heartbreak, because I got free.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
BB: There’s a huge difference because you guys probably think I’m glamorous, but I’m not. I’m the most low-key person in the world. I just stay focused on having fun and doing what I’m here to do. It’s always fascinating to me how people think I have this glamorous life. People who know me, know I’m the same person.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
BB: An ability to tap into their passion.
KW: What’s in your wallet?
BB: [LOL] A picture of my cousin Nikki who passed away, and some credit cards.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Beverly, and best of luck with Black Girls Rock.
BB: Thanks, Kam, and I must say this has been an awesome interview. Thank you so much.
[See your local cable TV listings for rebroadcasts of BET’s Black Girls Rock!]