Resilience and Courage

There is something both intimate and inspirational about honoring Black women in an event produced for and by Black women. The BET Her Awards in Atlanta took place this March, coinciding for the first time with Women’s History Month, and I had the privilege of celebrating both community leaders as well as the greatness of so many of our sisters behind the scenes.

We very purposefully worked exclusively with Black- and female-owned businesses to produce the event, to remind us all about the contributions Black women make in not only our culture, but also in our businesses and our communities. Black women have been the fastest-growing entrepreneur group in the country in recent years, and it is proven that when we support Black women-owned businesses they are highly intentional about pouring back into their communities, enriching the lives of so many others around them.
We commissioned a new trophy created specially by Atlanta-based sculptor Ellex Swavoni. She beautifully captured the excellence and strength of our honorees, the figure’s hands reaching above her head, poised to accept her crown.

While they have all achieved admirable success, each of this year’s honorees also exemplifies a different quality we can all aspire to emulate in some way.

Love Award: Kandi Burruss
From singer (co-founding R&B group Xscape) and hit songwriter (for Destiny’s Child and Pink, among others) to entrepreneur and longest-serving cast member of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kandi is known for spreading love wherever she can, and especially in her Atlanta hometown.

Joy Award (presented by My Black is Beautiful): Kym Whitley
In addition to being a much-loved actor (from The Nutty Professor to HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) and comedian who has made people smile, Kym is a dedicated activist. Her “Don’t Feed Me” campaign began as something she did for her son, Joshua, and evolved into an ongoing, high-profile project to raise awareness of food allergies for children and adults. Kym encourages people to love authentically and joyfully.

Rising Star Award (presented by American Express): Marsai Martin
First noticed for her part in ABC’s black-ish and the youngest person to ever have executive-produced a major Hollywood movie (2019’s Little), though she is still only in her teens, Marsai is an inspirational example for all to follow their dreams and believe that, with commitment and creativity, the sky is the limit.

Pride Award (presented by Discover): Sam Jay
If anyone embodies the essence of pride, diversity and inclusion it’s Sam, who came to attention as the first Black lesbian writer on Saturday Night Live. Using humor to challenge prejudice, her first Netflix special, Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning, was released to critical acclaim in 2020, and she recently made her feature film debut in You People (with Eddie Murphy).

Power Award: Thasunda Brown Duckett
As president and CEO of insurance and investments giant TIAA, Thasunda is one of only two Black women currently leading a Fortune 500 company. With her commitment to helping close the wealth gap and encouraging financial literacy, she demonstrates what it means to exercise power with passion and purpose.

Legend Award (presented by Walmart): MC Lyte
In hip-hop’s 50th anniversary year, we simply had to acknowledge the pioneering contribution of one of the genre’s founding mothers for her part in making an indelible imprint not only on our culture but the world. In addition to her groundbreaking music, she has continued to move forward, establishing a reputation as a formidable actress and becoming “the voice” of announcements at many major awards events.

Hosted by author, actor, motivational speaker and television personality Bevy Smith, and featuring performances by MC Lyte and Tamela Mann, the event, sponsored by Walmart, was a joyful, powerful and occasionally tearful celebration. It was made possible by our behind-the-scenes Black-owned vendors: Case Love Productions (photography), Conceptual Geniuses (production), Guardian Protection Professionals (security), House of Joy LLC (agency management), Lemiga Events (decor), Moore and Moore Merch (promotional merchandise), One Stop Productions (audiovisual) and Tila Studios (awards).

Though we singled out six amazing women and their inspiring lives of resilience and courage, they serve as examples for all of us to see how we as Black women can share love, joy, pride, power and purpose in our circles and communities, for the better of all our futures.

Tavia Pitts is senior vice president at BET Networks/Paramount Global.