For one night only the nuisance of a traffic jam on the Bronx's Grand Concourse was not the result of a Yankees game and could be forgiven for a good cause: Black Girls Rock. On Saturday, the glitterati sauntered across the red carpet and filled the borough's landmark venue New York Loews Paradise Theater to commemorate the third annual Black Girls Rock (BGR) Awards, which premieres on BET, Sunday, Nov. 4 (8 p.m. EST/7 pm CST). Founded in 2006 by former model and celebrity deejay Beverly Bond, the non-profit organization empowers young girls through arts education and its star-studded ceremonial tribute pays a respectful nod to Black women that are helping shape America and their communities through their philathropic efforts and career accomplishments.
As the house lights descended and festivities kicked off, the rumble of drum rolls served as a musical prelude to Alicia Keys' grand entrance. Flanked by dancers in military-inspired garb that complemented her own black-and-gold ensemble, the Grammy winner and BGR honoree marched down the aisle belting her latest anthem "Girl on Fire" from her upcoming album of the same name before joining eight drummers and a total of five dancers, two adults and three children, on stage. Following Keys' performance the evening's cohosts Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King welcomed the crowd but not before Ross slipped. The statuesque comedic actress quickly prevented an embarrassing fall that would have surely gone viral. Taking it all in stride, the stylish duo laughed it off, did a "rewind" by playfully exiting the stage in reverse, and reemerged without a falter causing an eruption of laughter.
With the tone set, Eva Longoria took center stage to present actress, political activist and star of ABC's new hit drama "Scandal", Kerry Washington, with the Star Power award. The diminutive "Desperate Housewives" starlet acknowledged that Washington, a Bronx native, has made television history as the first black woman in 38 years to secure a leading role on a prime-time dramatic series (in 1974 actress Teresa Graves starred in ABC's short-lived series "Get Christie Love"). During her acceptance speech, the George Washington University grad and Obama supporter said she learned the importance of having control of her political power from her parents. She encouraged and reminded women that as a collective their success renders infinite possibilities. "The night sky is never lit up by one star but by billions of stars. Rock your star power. Be bold, be bright and be blessed."
Not to be outdone, each honoree gave inspirational speeches that were emotionally-stirring. Keep A Child Alive ambassador Alicia Keys, the Rock Star award recipient, credited her mother and grandmother for teaching her what it means to be a woman by leading by example. Covergirl spokesmodel and Atlantic Records recording artist Janelle Monae fought back tears while accepting the Young, Black and Gifted award from actress Meagan Good. The Kansas City native spoke of her father, stepfather and mother that were all blue-collar service workers who donned uniforms, the inspiration for her trademark black-and-white ensemble. Her message to young Black girls was simple: be you. "Perfection is often the enemy of greatness," she said. "I did not have to change who I was to become a cover girl. Always be you."
Other honorees included Dionne Warwick who was presented the Living Legend award by songstress Marsha Ambrosius while Taraji P. Henson gave the Inspiration award to Susan L. Taylor, founder of National Cares Mentoring Movement for her work mentoring youth as well as her 22-year career at the helm of Essence Magazine. BET's "Being Mary Jane" star Gabrielle Union presented the Social Humanitarian Award to 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Hawa Abdi and her daughters, Dr. Deqo Mohamed and Dr. Amina Mohamed. Known as the Saints of Somalia their work through the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation provides healthcare, food and shelter to Somalian refugee women and children. Abdi's daughter, Dr. Deqo Mohamed, accepted the honor in her mother's absence and invited Bond to visit Africa to inspire its young girls.
Throughout the celebration, guests were entertained by India.Arie, Brandy, Keyshia Cole, as well as SWV and Ciara who each performed medleys of their popular hits. The crowd jumped to their feet when ATL's crunk-n-R&B princess brought out her mentor, artist and mega-producer Missy Elliott, a 2010 BGR honoree.
And the surprises kept coming. For the first-time ever men graced the stage of the normally females-only ceremony. Emmy award-winning actor and star of BBC's "Luther" Idris Elba, a friend and fellow deejay who has shared the wheels of steel with Beverly Bond, received cat calls that made him blush amid thunderous applause. Before bringing out the first male artists and assembled R&B trio (Luke James, Eric Benet and Anthony Hamilton) to serenade the audience, Elba said: "I am proud to be the first man to grace the stage for the Black Girls Rock Awards!"
For the grand finale, India.Arie returned to the stage a second time dedicating her mane anthem "I Am Not My Hair" to "Good Morning America" cohost Robin Roberts, a breast cancer survivor who recently lost her hair after receiving chemo and a bone marrow transplant to treat her myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare blood disorder often caused by chemotherapy and radiation.
Perhaps, BGR Founder Beverly Bond's parting each-one-teach-one mantra best captured the spirit of the night: "A Black girl who rocks pays it forward. This is not just a movement, it's a solution." Undoubtedly, those three little words (Black Girls Rock) instill enough pride to move mountains and any girl onward and upward.