The “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” star, who was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the event, reflected on the courageous women, on screen and off, who have impacted her life.
“We are underestimated like Rosa Parks, who was presumed to be meek and mild, voiceless,” she said. “But on one December evening in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks said that, ‘When that White driver stepped back toward us … I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.’ Her refusal to give up her seat on the bus that day historically boosted the fight for civil rights for Black people in this country.”
Bassett played Parks, a woman she called “the mother of the freedom movement,” in the 2002 TV movie, “The Rosa Parks Story.”
She went on to discuss the historic accomplishments of pilot Bessie Coleman.
“We are fearless like Bessie Coleman, a manicurist in a local Chicago barber shop who wanted to learn to fly but was turned down by flight schools in our country,” she said. “She didn’t give up. She learned instead to speak French, attended a flight school in France, and, in 1921, she went on to become the first Black and Native American woman pilot. Brave Bessie, as she became known, built a successful business doing aerial shows, in a plane she owned, around this country, a country that tried to deny her dream.”
Bassett had her breakout performance as Tina Turner in the 1993 film, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” so it was only fitting she made mention of the music icon.
“We are resilient like Tina Turner, who gave up everything she’d worked for, except her name, to gain freedom from abuse,” she said. “She started over, reimagining her career as a rock ‘n’ roll artist, a genre that no Black woman had successfully charted. Tina Turner went on to become one of the most admired and successful artists around the world, earning an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on her own merit.”
Bassett also spoke about her own mother.
“We are resourceful like my mother, Betty Jane, who was a single mom raising her daughters to be women of purpose and pride who could stand on their own,” she said. “She often struggled to make ends meet, making a way out of no way, like we women do from time to time, but she always made sure we had exactly what we needed.”
Other honorees at the event included, Aurora James, HAIM, Jennifer Hudson, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts and Shannon Watts, who are each featured on digital covers of Glamour this month.
Bassett concluded her speech with a rousing call to action.
“The legacies of these women and so many more are what keep me going when the deck seems stacked against me. Against us. And as I stand here tonight, I challenge us all to think about what our contributions to pushing humanity forward will be. What will you do to make sure that future generations of girls and women exist in a world that is one of equality and equity? And when you’re told that you can’t, or you won’t, that it’s impossible, when doubt or fear begins to take hold of your spirit, let determination cover your body like a quilt on a winter night. And press forward. The world needs you, quite possibly more than ever before. The world has always needed us.”