Rihanna & Shonda Rhimes Deliver Empowering Speeches At Black Girls Rock!

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Black Girls Rock!, a ceremony which took place Friday and aired Tuesday on BET, is a celebration of black womanhood and its attendant power. With attendees ranging from Rihanna to Shonda Rhimes, the event was the very definition of star-studded. (That’s saying nothing of Jazmine Sullivan’s bedazzled catsuit.) The event was full of empowering moments, but perhaps the best speeches of the night belonged to the first two speakers.

Danai Gurira and Amandla Stenberg received, respectively, the Star Power Award and Young Gifted and Black awards at the event, which was organized by Beverly Bond and hosted by Tracee Ellis Ross. Shonda Rhimes and Rihanna were also honored later in the ceremony, though their remarks were much shorter and less specific. We guess their work speaks more than eloquently for itself.

Gurira, who plays Michonne on The Walking Dead, was up first. She said that black girls needed a black girl fairy godmomma. Hers was Maya Angelou and her moving speech is below:

“I dedicate this moment to that black girl out there who might not know that she does indeed rock. The world doesn’t always tell us so. Every black girl needs a black girl fairy god mama. For me, the ultimate black girl who rocked, and my black girl who rocked fairy god momma is the late great Maya Angelou. She was a rebel, a warrior, an intellectual, a love, a humanitarian, an activist, a momma, and a sister. I want to be all those things. I want to encourage black girls coming up behind me like my special guests tonight. I want to encourage all these other black girls. I know it can get tough out there. It can get downright ugly. I have walked the path, or some version of it, but know you are designed for greatness. And black girl, you rock because you have so much potential. Your power and your resilience will help to heal this world. Get your black girl who rocks fairy godmomma to guide you through. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve met her or not. Black girl, in the words of Ms. Angelou, I will leave you with this. ‘I can't believe my good fortune, and I am just so grateful, to be a Black woman. I would be so jealous if I were anything else.’ I want to thank you for this, Beverly. It nourishes me and it reminds me that i have received so much. And that I have to continue to give even more.”

Stenberg was up next. She said that the backlash to her casting in The Hunger Games was her “first interaction with clear and direct racism.” She pledged her commitment to creating roles for women of color in the future, then delivered an empowering speech about embracing her black womanhood.

“I remember looking in the mirror when I was a little girl, and looking and all that hair, and being like, “Ugh why is that there?” I wanted it to go down so much,” she said. “I remember suppressing it and brushing it. And being so frustrated that I was so big and so bold. I felt like I took up too much space. But because of those women i have learned that i do not thrive despite my blackness. My blackness does not inhibit me from being beautiful and intelligent. In fact it is the reason the reason I am beautiful and intelligent.”

Hillary Clinton spoke, introducing Beverly Bond. Clinton cited the strong black women leaders that have inspired her and cited Black Girls Rock! as an event that served as a rebuke to the continued obstacles in the way of advancement of Black women.

Bond spoke about movingly about appropriation and about the need to continue to represent Black womanhood. She said that the commodification of Black womanhood needs to be fought against, that Black women need to be represented for their entire selves, not just their features or “Black girl swag.”

Shonda Rhimes took the stage and spoke about how she brings a feminist vibe to television. She said that her success with Scandal made the casting of How to Get Away with Murder a no-brainer for the network. She spoke directly to her daughter, telling her that her generation is the one that matters.

“Your slates are blank your paths are clear your stories are whatever you decide,” Rhimes said. “You are the builders of the 21st century.”

She said that once you start getting awards, you are more history than future.

“Don’t look up here to us, put us in your rearview mirror,” she said. “Change the world. Then change it again.”

Rihanna also spoke. She accepted the Rockstar Award and came out onstage with tears in her eyes. “Thank you so much for celebrating us in a world that doesn’t celebrate us enough,” she said. The singer credited her mother and grandmother as the “strongest woman I know” and “20 times stronger than my mother.” She had to pause frequently for applause during her speech.

“The minute you learn to love yourself, you would not want to be anybody else,” she said. “Role model is not the title they like to give me, but that’s why tonight is so important to me, because I think I can inspire a lot of young women to be themselves. And that is half the battle. That’s the easiest thing to be. All girls rock. Black girls… we just on another level.”
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