Mary J. Blige's name has always been synonymous with empowering others, namely through her iconic music, but now she's extended that reputation to another successful venture: the Strength of a Woman Festival. This year, the Atlanta event made elevation, education, and empowerment the number goal in every facet of the four-day affair (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 during Blige's thoughtful summit held on May 13 at AmericasMart, where stars gathered to share wisdom about entrepreneurship, business, health, wellness, and more with festivalgoers in the name of unity.
Walking into the building — decked out with all sorts of cool activations, booths, and vibrant pink decor — felt like arriving at a family reunion. Well-known figures and attendees, both seasoned and young, all communed together in one space with the aim to create genuine connections and spread a wealth of knowledge. As a Black woman, it felt affirming to be surrounded by folks who looked just like me. And to think, the event itself is only in its second year.
"It went from being a rooftop meeting at the Waldorf Astoria in Los Angeles to this, so it means a lot that it's here."
Backstage at the event, Blige expressed to POPSUGAR how unbelievable it's been to watch her festival and summit grow from its humble beginnings as a simple idea conceived on a hotel rooftop. "It's amazing. It's surreal because it was an idea we had two, three years ago, myself and my team, and it's here now," the R&B icon explained. "It went from being a rooftop meeting 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 partnership with Pepsi and Live Nation Urban, the Strength of a Woman summit consisted of panel discussions and programming that highlighted the beauty of community among women. The all-day event was led by some of the most influential Black voices across various industries — including but not limited to stars like Blige, Ciara, Marsai Martin, Angelica Ross, and more — and they all had something powerful to bestow.
During Martin's fireside chat with fellow panelists Gail Bean, Brandee Evans, Raven Goodwin, and Mara Brock Akil, the 18-year-old actor and producer spoke about the power she's discovered from telling Black stories on screen. "I'm constantly growing. I started out on 'Black-ish' when I was 9 . . . now to be able to create my own content and hire people and fire people, be able to create my dream projects, my strategy, and my plan are the best accolades that I could ever have in my life," she shared.
Elsewhere, the summit was filled with more touching moments, like when Blige graced the panel stage and was greeted by audience members affectionately belting out lyrics from her hit song "Just Fine." Soon after, the singer and "Power Book II: Ghost" star shared the inspiration behind her festival with the crowd. "The thought process came from performing and watching the women in the audience love and respect me, and love how my music has done so much 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; what the music has done, uplifting, encourageing, inspiring, and bringing us all together to love on each other."
"Mary is the woman who has overcome everything."
Blige's heartwarming intentions behind the second Strength of a Woman event were evident in each and every setup; even stars themselves were in awe of the final result. Speaking to POPSUGAR ahead of 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 talk about old Atlanta and new Atlanta, so seeing all the Black people come out, celebrate it, love, success, a good time, all the good things of Atlanta."
As far as Blige being the face of the Strength of a Woman festival, Bean said, "Mary is the woman who has overcome everything. So to be able to see her here standing, glowing, celebrating, put on something, and pour back into us women just lets you know, one: redemption is real. Two: the Black woman is undefeated. So it's kind of a foreshadowing of what my future could look like because representation matters."
Indeed it does, and Blige couldn't be a more perfect figure to represent the strength of a woman. This year's summit was proof.