“Strength of a Woman” Summit 2023
Mary J. Blige’s name has always been synonymous with empowering others, most notably through her iconic music, but now she’s extended that reputation to another successful venture: the Strength of a Woman Festival. At this year’s Atlanta event, uplift, education and empowerment were the focus of every aspect of the four-day event (May 11-14) – from a moving Mother’s Day gospel brunch and extravagant house ball to lively celebrity-led concerts . But that mission was most evident at Blige’s thoughtful summit on May 13 at AmericasMart, where stars came together to share wisdom on entrepreneurship, business, health, wellness and more with festival-goers on behalf of unity.
Entering the building, which is decked out with all sorts of cool activities, booths, and bright pink decor, felt like walking into a family reunion. Well-known personalities and participants, both experienced and young, all came together in one place with the aim of making real contacts and spreading a wealth of knowledge. As a black woman, it felt empowering to be surrounded by people who looked exactly like me. And if you consider that the event itself is only in its second year.
“It grew from a rooftop gathering at the Waldorf Astoria in Los Angeles to this, so it means a lot that it’s here.”
Behind the scenes at the event, Blige expressed to fafaq how incredible it was to see her festival and summit evolve from humble beginnings as a simple rooftop idea. “It is amazing. It’s surreal because it was an idea that we had two, three years ago, me and my team, and it’s here now,” the R&B icon explained. “It grew from a rooftop gathering at the Waldorf Astoria in Los Angeles to this, so it means a lot that it’s here.”
Curated by Blige and Ayars Agency founder Ashaunna Ayars, in collaboration with Pepsi and Live Nation Urban, the Strength of a Woman summit consisted of panel discussions and programs that highlighted the beauty of community among women. The day-long event was led by some of the most influential black voices across industries – including stars like Blige, Ciara, Marsai Martin, Angelica Ross and more – and they all had something powerful to bring to the table.
During Martin’s fireside chat with fellow panelists Gail Bean, Brandee Evans, Raven Goodwin and Mara Brock Akil, the 18-year-old actress and producer spoke about the power she’s discovered through telling Black stories on screen. “I keep growing. I started ‘Black-ish’ when I was 9 years old…now I’m able to create my own content and hire and fire people, to be able to achieve my dream projects, my strategy, and my plan the best awards I could ever get in my life,” she shared.
Elsewhere at the summit there were even more touching moments, such as when Blige took the podium stage and was greeted by the audience, who lovingly recited lyrics from their hit song Just Fine. Shortly after, the singer and ‘Power Book II: Ghost’ star shared with audiences the inspiration behind her festival. “The thought process came from performing and watching the women in the audience love and respect me and love how much my music has done for them,” Blige explained. “My music is a movement that has touched so many women and saved so many lives. So the summit is about that: about what the music did: Uplifting, encouraging, inspiring and bringing us all together to love one another.”
“Maria is the woman who has overcome everything.”
Blige’s heartwarming intentions behind the second “Strength of a Woman” event were evident in every single setup; Even the stars themselves were impressed with the end result. Speaking to POPSUGAR before her panel, Bean described being a part of Blige’s festival this year, saying, “Oh my god, it feels good.” The “Snowfall” and “P-Valley” star added: “It just feels like old Atlanta. We’re talking about the old Atlanta and the new Atlanta, so to see all the black guys come out, celebrate it, love, success, a good time, all the good things of Atlanta.”
As for Blige as the face of the “Strength of a Woman” festival, Bean said, “Mary is the woman who conquered everything. To see you standing there, beaming, celebrating, getting dressed and pouring yourself back into it.” We women are just letting you know, first, salvation is real. Second, the black woman is undefeated. So it’s kind of a foreshadowing of what my future might be like, because representation is important.”
That is indeed the case, and Blige couldn’t be a more perfect figure to represent a woman’s strength. This year’s summit was proof.