A significant part of my advocacy work as a social innovator and cultural curator is centered around the urgent need to counter the misrepresentations of women of color in media. I founded BLACK GIRLS ROCK! in 2006 to create a new paradigm where Black women can articulate and celebrate our own beauty, womanhood and blackness — and highlight the spectrum of our brilliance on our own terms.
Today, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has evolved into an international movement connecting Black women across the African Diaspora. When I began this effort, I did not consider myself a leader or a change-maker. I was a Black woman simply reacting to the constant barrage of toxic media messages that degraded, dehumanized and belittled Black women and girls.
There was a paradox regarding Black women’s presence in media — we were both hyper-visible and invisible at the same time. On the one side of this paradox, there was a belligerent onslaught of demeaning, stereotypical, and objectifying images in the media that were the dominant representations of women of color. On the other side, there was an overwhelming absence of diverse, beautiful, powerful and holistic images of Black women in popular culture.
Even today, there is a wide scope of Black womanhood that remains unseen and unvoiced. Far too often the breadth and depth of contributions made by Black women are marginalized, untaught and under-praised. As a result, young Black girls do not always get to see representations of role models and trail-blazing “sheroes” who look like them.
Black girls grow up painfully aware of the relationship between race, gender and privilege. As a Black girl, you learn that because of the body and skin that you are born in, society has placed you on the bottom of its hierarchy.
When the media omits your narrative and does not celebrate your diversity, complexity, cultural identity, aesthetic, accomplishments and historical legacy it can alter your perception of self-worth. When the messages in media tell young girls of color that they are not as beautiful, powerful, valuable and important as all the other girls in the world they become blind to the essence and magnificence of their uniqueness — their ‘Black Girl Magic’ — and that blindness can warp their positive identity formation and cripple them from navigating their most productive life-paths.
Black girls need to know that they matter. They need to see examples of success, leadership, achievement, sisterhood and humanitarianism in abundance so that they can gain confidence in their ability to become their best and greatest selves.
In order to overcome the countless barriers experienced by Black girls that may threaten to thwart their aspirations for success, I believe it is essential to nourish the next generation of girls through programs, images and examples that give Black girls the confidence, tools and experience necessary to become dynamic leaders, innovators and doers.
Over the last ten years, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has been at the forefront of a movement helping to create a cultural paradigm shift regarding the portrayal of women of color in mass media. We’ve also worked fervently to create highly effective and impactful leadership and educational programs for teen girls to enhance their self-esteem, confidence, work ethic, integrity, critical thinking, cultural literacy and civic engagement.
In my effort to continue building platforms that empower women globally, I am excited to join powerful women thought leaders — who also desire to make the world a more equitable place for all women and girls — at the United States of Women Summit.
Beverly Bond is Founder of Black Girls Rock!