“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”—Audre Lorde

There is no denying the need to stick together in these horrible times. The winds of ugly people are consumed with hate. Jealous and nefarious agendas perfume the air. And yet those who are waking up and those of us who are choosing to “stay woke” are using this negative turn of unfortunate events to bond, plan, connect and peacefully conquer the bullies baying at the gates that protect our hard-won freedom.

When life throws our people rotten lemons, we turn that putrid fruit into lemon cakes, lemon pies and sparkling lemonade. In short, we are creative and we celebrate.

In the vein of celebration Essence, the pre-eminent brand for African-American women, has chosen to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its esteemed Black Women in Hollywood Awards & Gala—the annual Oscar-week celebration at the forefront of spotlighting Hollywood’s most creative and accomplished visionaries with a twist.

Shifting from a daytime luncheon to a resplendent evening gala for the first time, the red carpet ceremony will be held at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.

The awards and gala will honor Hollywood’s “Next Generation,” young women who are excelling and elevating their crafts, including triple-threat actress/musician/entertainer Janelle Monáe (Breakthrough Award), groundbreaking actress/writer/producer Issa Rae (Vanguard Award), standout actress Aja Naomi King (Lincoln Shining Star Award) and dynamic actress Yara Shahidi (Generation Next). Actress/Producer Gabrielle Union will serve as the program’s host.

“For the past decade, the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards have paid homage to our modern image-makers—both in front of the camera and behind the scenes,” said Essence Editor-in-Chief Vanessa K. De Luca. “This past year has been an exceptional one for diversity in film and television, and with the incredible contributions of Janelle, Issa, Aja and Yara, it is fitting that our 10th anniversary will honor the future of Hollywood and its continued steps on the path to inclusion.”

Also for the first time, internationally acclaimed visual artist and filmmaker Mickalene Thomas will be infusing the event with her elaborate imagery, celebrating the power of female beauty as a facet of women’s empowerment.

Since its inception in 2008, the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards & Gala have honored some of the most cherished figures in the industry, including Oprah Winfrey, Lupita Nyong’o, Ava DuVernay, Halle Berry, Viola Davis, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Angela Bassett, Queen Latifah, Naomie Harris, Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Jennifer Hudson, Zoe Saldana, Alfre Woodard, Regina King, Gabrielle Union, Tracee Ellis Ross, Debbie Allen, Nina Shaw, Mary J. Blige, Gabourey Sidibe, Quvenzhané Wallis, Jurnee Smollett, Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Loretta Devine, Mara Brock Akil, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ruth E. Carter, Nina Shaw, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Suzanne de Passe.

As a highlight of Oscar week, this elegant awards celebration has hosted many of Hollywood’s elite, including Chris Rock, Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Amy Adams, Emma Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Forest Whitaker, James Cameron, Terrence Howard and Laurence Fishburne, among many others.

Stay tuned to Essence.com for highlights and behind-the-scenes access to the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards & Gala. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @essence #BlackWomeninHollywood. Join in the discussion on Facebook.

The Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards & Gala is presented by The Lincoln Motor Company and sponsored by AT&T, Coca-Cola, Colgate Optic White, GEICO, L’Oréal Paris, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Wal-Mart.

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