Mary J. Blige, Mara Brock Akil & More Discuss Supporting and Amplifying Black Women During Mary J. Blige and Pepsi’s Second Annual Strength of a Woman Festival

The essence of sisterhood was on full display in Atlanta this past weekend at Mary J Blige & Pepsi’s Second Annual Strength of a Woman Festival and Summit. Philanthropy, music, culture, inclusivity, and U-N-I-T-Y were the event’s themes, accompanied by some major surprises.

Perfectly stationed during Women’s Health Month and Mother’s Day weekend, the festival introduced mental and physical joy and relaxation to attendees. BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with the iconic Grammy Award-winning artist, producer, philanthropist, and legend Mary J Blige about the growth of the festival and how the amplification and inclusivity of women, especially Black women, improves the Black community at large. 

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Mary J. Blige attends the Strength of a Woman’s Summit in Partnership with Mary J. Blige, Pepsi, and Live Nation Urban at AmericasMart Atlanta on May 13, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit)


BLACK ENTERPRISE: This festival feels like home no matter where you’re from; the North, the South, African American, or the Caribbean—you have a little bit of everything. Was the inclusivity of all women, especially Black women, and that sense of warmth important to you when creating this festival?

Mary J Blige: Of course, all Black women and women in general. This festival is for us by us. But if anybody else of color—or not—wanted to come, it’s fine and welcomed. You know what I’m saying? We’re not shutting the doors. It’s the Strength of a Woman. That title is purposely done. We want everybody to feel included, you know?

Can you talk a little bit about the festival’s growth and how that feels in relation to this being YOUR festival? Like this is your baby! Can you respond to comments comparing it to other great women-centric festivals like Essence Fest? Between philanthropy and entertainment, it’s really; it’s up there!

MJB: It’s so major because it’s all things Mary j Blige; it’s everything you see is what I am. Yes ma’am. You know, women in unity, the uplifting and encouraging, educating us, you know. I’m about all of this. Music, beauty, comedy, fashion, wealth, you know, I love all of it.

Philanthropy was the main theme of the first night. The Festival + Summit kicked off with PepsiCo presenting $140,000 in donations to four local Atlanta organizations that support opportunities for women, alongside a $60,000 HBCU Scholarship in partnership with Mary J. Blige.

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Jewell Gooding, Victoria Lambert, Kent Montgomery, Mary J. Blige, Courtney Stewart and Mali Wilson (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit)


BE spoke with renowned screenwriter and television producer Mara Brock Akil on the festival’s contribution to women and Black businesses and why Strength of a Woman is extremely good for Black women’s mental and physical health.

As someone who strengthens and empowers so many women through your work, do you feel that that energy of strength is here at the festival? 

Mara Brock Akil: I can speak specifically on the strength of a woman, it can be any woman. But in this particular context, we are talking about Black women, and Black women lead with their hearts. It’s almost, sometimes it could be to our fault because we can tip that over to exhaustion. That could tip over to not self-care. It could tip over into repeating bad cycles or just holding on too long. You feel that strength here, but it’s rooted in love instead of exhaustion. For the most part, Black women are about love and care. Seeing the warmth, seeing each other. Like givin’ a high five, a hug, and a ‘Heyy girl, you look good.’ That’s love. And we need that sometimes.

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ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MAY 13: (L-R) Mara Brock Akil, Brandee Evans, Raven Goodwin, Gail Bean and Marsai Martin speak onstage during the Strength of a Woman’s Summit in Partnership with Mary J. Blige, Pepsi, and Live Nation Urban at AmericasMart Atlanta on May 13, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit)


Talk about why you love seeing big festivals like this pour back into Black and Brown communities like Atlanta.

MBA: Well, I mean, at the base level, it is offering an entrance to more. It’s offering entertainment. It’s offering escape. It’s offering information. But in terms of giving back, everything should be philanthropic at this point, where we are in the context of history. Our history. We have to lift as we climb. Black people historically have been doing that period. You may have been the only person that bought something from a small business vendor today. And that may be the thing that helps that sister keep going. That sale for that day may validate her reason to do the endeavor in the first place. That helps her mental health, her physical well-being, and that helps her survive.

Speaking of offering and sharing information, the festival included pivotal panels and engaging programming from some of the most influential Black voices in a diversity of industries.

Panelists included Mary J. Blige, Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Ciara, Gail Bean, Monique Rodriguez, Earn Your Leisure’s Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings, Mara Brock Akil, Angela Yee, Brandee Evans, Raven Goodwin, and Modern Blk Girl’s Tiffany James.

Attendees enjoyed hearing from successful entrepreneurs, influencers, and experts in their field and the opportunity to connect with like-minded women.

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Ayesha Selden, Egypt Sherrod Tiffany James, Troy Millings and Rashad Bilal speak onstage during the Strength of a Woman’s Summit (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit)


PepsiCo’s Kent Montgomery, senior vice president of Industry Relations and Multicultural Development, touched on how the festival contributes to Atlanta’s diversity initiatives and PepsiCo’s partnership with the Festival. 

Pepsi is really ‘putting its money where its mouth is, as they say. Tell me a little about how Pepsi contributes to the success of this women-centric festival curated by the icon Mary J Blige and to the Black community at large, especially in ATL. 

Kent Montgomery: Working with Mary was a go from the start. She’s a major voice on education and women’s empowerment here and all over the country. Absolutely. She’s generational. My generation, your generation, everybody knows she’s a superstar.

What impact do you think this partnership will have in Atlanta communities and on women around the country?

KM: I think it starts with us. On our journey, which is racial equality worldwide, PepsiCo committed to pouring $400 million into the Black community. We framed that up in really three ways: people, business, and community. This festival is about community, and we’ve awarded thousands of dollars to the Atlanta community, students, Black-owned businesses, and more during this weekend. I think when it comes down to it, we saw that great work that was happening in Atlanta it became a destination.


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Method Man and Mary J. Blige perform onstage during the Strength of a Woman’s MJB “Celebrating Hip Hop 50” Concert in Partnership with Mary J. Blige, Pepsi, and Live Nation Urban at State Farm Arena (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit)


If the driving topic of sisterhood and philanthropy isn’t enough, the festival included an A-list lineup of performances and even some amazing surprises. Grammy and Emmy-winning artist and producer Robert Glasper delivered a powerful evening of music kicking off the festival.

Friday, Day 2 consisted of a concert celebrating the past, present, and future of hip-hop music with electrifying performances from artists who have paved the way, such as Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Busta Rhymes, Jeezy, Method Man, Ciara DJ Drama, Jadakiss, and Missy Elliot.


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Summer Walker performs onstage during Strength of a Woman (Photo by Derek White/Getty Images for Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit)


Saturday concluded with performances from Coco Jones, Summer Walker, Lucky Daye, and the soulful legend Lauryn Hill.


[Shannon Balenciaga and Mary J. Blige attend Strength of a Woman’s “Purpose Ball: Bridging the Gap” (Photo by Derek White/Getty Images for Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit)

The weekend ended on a Sunday with a comedy show from the hilarious comedian Mike Epps and ‘The Purpose Ball’ to honor the LGBTQIA+ community’s undeniable impact on popular culture and highlight the disparities of access and equity in healthcare for Black and LGBTQIA+ communities. 

Overall, it’s a festival that all women, especially Black women, should experience once in their lifetime; shoutout to Queen Mary J. Blige for a weekend of empowerment coming to fruition for a second year.

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