Featuring four days of festivities filled with music, partying, a premiere and a panel, Black Girls Rock! Fest 2023 (BGR!FEST) returned to the Kennedy Center in northwest D.C. with programming to remind African American women of their strength, beauty and worth.
“BGR!FEST is much more than just a weekend of revelry; it is a powerful and symbolic affirmation that underscores the pivotal role that Black women play in shaping cultural discourse,” said Black Girls Rock! CEO and founder DJ Beverly Bond. “BGR!FEST’s unparalleled celebration echoes the ethos of the Black Girls Rock Awards, amplifying our magic, and celebrating the excellence of Black women in a way that is simply incomparable.”
The festival kicked off Thursday, March 9 with a performance by singer and harpist Kayla Ortiz as part of “Rock Like a Girl,” then an opening night party in the basement of the Kennedy Center’s state-of-the-art Reach building. With two bars and appearances by Bond, DJ Ty Alexander, Maimouna Youssef also known as Mumu Fresh, and celebrated go-go band Be’la Dona, the spirits were flowing, the tunes were rocking and the dance floor was jumping.
“[I’m here] just to be surrounded by other Black women, celebrate Black women and be a part of it,” said Jalima Alicea of Baltimore, Maryland, who came to D.C. for the first night of the festival. “It’s a good vibe.”
With the fest in its fourth year at the Kennedy Center, women from around the country gathered at the national cultural center for the weekend of programming.
“Serving a home for this annual celebration is reflective of our institutional commitment to uplift the contributions of Black women and their critical role in both shaping and shifting global culture,” said Simone Eccleston, director of Hip Hop Culture and Contemporary Music at the Kennedy Center.
Other events included BGR!FEST After Dark programs “Who Rocks Next?,” and “Black Men Rock,” a Saturday, March 11 “Rock Like a Girl,” performance featuring sister-songstresses The Amours, and a headlining concert with singers Estelle, Alice Smith and Jade Novah. The final day wrapped with a premiere of the new Lifetime movie, “Giving Hope: The Ni’Cola Mitchell Story,” followed by a panel featuring the film’s star Tatyana Ali, director Alpha Nicky, as well as the inspiration behind the film, Ni’Cola Mitchell, founder of Girls Who Brunch.
A True Story That Inspires
In more than 20 cities, Girls Who Brunch works to empower at-risk young women ages 9 through 17, though the journey to building up others wasn’t always easy for Mitchell.
As a young girl in Jamaica, a left-handed Mitchell was told by a teacher she’d never amount to anything.
“Then when I had my oldest daughter at 15 … they told me I wasn’t going to be anything, and then I had Diamond at 19 and they told me I wasn’t going to be anything. And so I’ve been working for my kids,” said Mitchell, adding that the opportunity to have her story told through film is a “dream come true.”
“And then to do it at Black Girls Rock, this was always a bucket list of mine to be here, so thank you Ms. Bond for even thinking enough of my story to have us here today,” the entrepreneur and author noted.
With more than three decades in the television industry, Ali said that working on such a project was “divine.”
“It is very rare to give people their flowers while they’re in the midst of their work. That’s when I saw it as the flowers that you deserve,” Ali, who plays the title character, told Mitchell.
The actress also noted the significance of screening the film as part of BGR!Fest weekend.
“To be able to see it for the first time, here at BGR Fest, with my BGR family, who have mentored me, who have told me that I matter, who have let me know that I’m special… the connection is of God,” she explained.
Calling herself “Blackity Black,” the entrepreneur and inspiration behind the story emphasized the importance of having a Black woman director at the helm, and the film’s producers delivered. Ali also said it was refreshing to work with a Black woman director on this story.
“Oftentimes I’m working with white men… I just felt so safe with you,” Ali said speaking to Congolese French director Alpha Nicky. “You’re so fantastic.”
The director called the opportunity “God’s plan,” and thanked Mitchell for trusting her with her life story.
While she gears up for the world to learn her story when the film airs on Lifetime on April 9, Mitchell is still prioritizing “her babies,” the thousands of young ladies part of Girls Who Brunch.
“When I told the story… I wanted people to see the importance of [Girls Who Brunch] so then they can buy into it… We can’t do it without funding,” she said.
Through the rollercoaster that has been her journey, the entrepreneur also hopes to inspire others.
“I wanted any girl and woman… to know that no matter what your circumstance is, as long as you have breath in your body, you can recreate your story to be whatever you want it to be.”