Tatyana Ali Black Girls Rock

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Tonight, the highly anticipated Black Girls Rock! 2015 Awards will finally air on BET (7P/6c). As with each ceremony, this year’s Black Girls Rock! Awards is a star-studded event with famous honorees including Erykah Badu, Cicely Tyson, Jada Pinkett Smith and Ava DuVernay as well as everyday heroes like educator Nadia Lopez and humanitarian Dr. Helene D. Gayle.

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Almost a decade after starting her non-profit organization, Founder and Executive Director of Black Girls Rock! Inc., Beverly Bond, has shown us the importance of Black women creating our own spaces to celebrate our beauty, our diversity and the valuable ways in which we give back to our communities.

Celebrating Black female beauty is an incredibly important part of this event and is still an urgent issue for today’s conversations on beauty standards and self-esteem in young women. In light of antagonistic hashtags like #whitegirlsrock and infamous articles like Deadline’s “Ethnic Castings” story as well as the New York Times’ “less classically beautiful” debacle, we’ve seen on multiple occasions why it is important to create visibility for women of color in mainstream media and to affirm Blacks for their natural features. Giving young Black girls positive reflections of themselves is a must because it improves their chances of growing into their fullest potential—regardless of how it ruffles the feathers of those who lack a fundamental understanding in the intersecting inequalities for marginalized people.

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What started off as Bond’s small, simple project to create a t-shirt line has grown into one of the most talked about (and in some cases, controversial) initiatives in contemporary media and image activism for young Black girls. Black Girls Rock! has garnered big time sponsors like Target and Procter & Gamble’s beauty brands (Olay, COVERGIRL and Pantene) to amplify their messaging to Black women throughout the generations across the country while validating our presence and power as consumers in the beauty and fashion industries.

Continuing in its mission to acknowledge celebrities that have paved the way for Black female excellence and ordinary community leaders alike, Black Girls Rock! has partnered with My Black is Beautiful (MBIB), P&G’s ongoing campaign to give Black women the power to define beauty for ourselves and to acknowledge us as change agents in our communities. There is a slew of accomplished, prominent career women that have gotten behind the project including well-known spokespersons like Actress Tatyana Ali and Afrobella’s Patrice Yursik while other women like Digital Media and Business Consultant Angelina Darrisaw were hand-selected by the MBIB community to serve as ambassadors for the brand.

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“I love the message and I love what they’re doing,” Ali says. “I love the campaign to bring a million Black girls and Black women in community to celebrate one another, to affirm one another and I think it’s important to support that in media. I was very honored to be a part of it.

Darrisaw says that she is happy for today’s girls who have institutions like Black Girls Rock!, MBIB, as well as platforms through social media to talk about beauty standards and self-esteem issues. “Coming into this I’d done a lot of work around professional development and I’ve realized that having a conversation around personal development really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I stretched myself as a facilitator to talk to younger girls.”

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“I love doing the affirmations. I like hearing other girls have those honest conversations and share what it is they’re going through and it’s really, really fulfilling in a way that I’ve never expected,” Darrisaw continues.

In response the “Ethnic Castings” article, Ali says that the article showed the importance of people of color staying vigilant about how we are addressed and seen in the media. She also stresses the importance of remembering the work of Black artists who have paved the way for our media visibility in generations past. Ali claims that there is a danger in forgetting their accomplishments and to subscribing to the notion that diversity in TV shows like “Empire,” “Scandal” and “Being Mary Jane” is a new phenomenon.

“Black artists have been out here doing this work for a very long time and it happens in waves,” Ali says. “Some people get in and then after the wave is done, people disappear. I think it’s vital that we remember that this has happened before and it’s vital that we remember that the door can get shut again.”

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Initiatives like MBIB and Black Girls Rock! puts the power back into the hands of women of color to enter careers throughout the media and entertainment industry, ensuring that our stories are told and encouraging us to share content that represents us in the way that we want to be represented. When asked if the celebration of Black beauty we’ve recently seen in mainstream media is a trend, Ali responds by asserting that the reversal of dominant, Euro-centric beauty trends is up to us.

“I don’t think (celebrating Black beauty) can be a trend from the way that the business is moving. You can’t say that there isn’t an audience anymore because there’s so many places for an audience to find content that they like and relate to, that they’re interested in. Because of that, it can’t go backwards.”

Smartphones, blogs and social media make it easy for young Black women who are already having their own conversation about beauty and personal affirmation at a very young age. Darrisaw notes from her experiences of speaking to Black teenage girls that it’s an important topic because adolescence is such a sensitive and influential time period.

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“That’s when we’re being shaped, that’s when we’re being moved. There’s so much coming at us in the media, in our home environments, in our school environments and might be a lot of negative messaging. So providing that positive messaging where you’re being shaped and formed is really impactful and important.”

While reflecting on what she would have told her adolescent self about beauty and Black womanhood she says:

“I would do a lot of reinforcement and tell myself to stay in my own lane…Even as an adult, I keep having to tell myself that but as an adolescent, I didn’t hear that enough…Whatever you do, you’re going to do it at your pace and however it is that you do it. It’s going to be different from how anybody else does it and that’s enough. That’s all it has to be.”

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