The Black Women On Broadway Gala Was a Lovefest for Women of Color in Theater

The annual Tony Awards ceremony takes place this Sunday, but Black women in theater have already begun the celebration, thanks to the organization Black Women on Broadway (BWOB). The nonprofit gathered its community together earlier this week to uplift, support and honor the contributions Black women regularly make to the Broadway world.

EBONY exclusively joined the ceremony/late brunch/sisterfest inside the Lighthouse, a gorgeous waterfront event space at Chelsea Piers in New York City, where BWOB’s three founders convened alongside 200 Black women who tirelessly work on stage and behind the scenes in Broadway productions.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 10: (L-R) Amber Iman, Danielle Brooks, and Jocelyn Bioh attend the 3rd Annual Black Women on Broadway Awards at The Lighthouse, Pier 61 on June 10, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Getty Images for BWOB)
Amber Iman, Danielle Brooks and Jocelyn Bioh, founders of Black Women on Broadway. Image: Jared Siskin/Getty Images for BWOB.

“This is our third year, and we’re very excited to get to this point because it takes a lot of effort and work,” shared BWOB co-founder, The Color Purple Academy Award and Tony nominee Danielle Brooks. Brooks founded the organization alongside year’s Tony nominees Amber Iman, who’s up for Best Performance by an Actress—Musical for Lempicka, and playwright Jocelyn Bioh.

“The three of us are leading the charge, and it’s really for this communion that you see around us, that sisterhood, to remind all the girls that we got you; when you’re not being seen, we see you, when you’re not being heard, we hear you—to just shine and hug each other,” Brooks declared.

Bioh, whose Broadway debut show, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding, is up for five Tony nominations, including Best Play, said, “It’s important to have an event that celebrates us and the achievements and the contributions that we make to American theater…There’s never, ever been an event that’s dedicated only to Black women who work in theater.”

Iman added that it’s “a moment to just come together, look beautiful and celebrate…It’s a salve for your soul that fortifies you and allows you to go back out into the world and take over.”

As for their Tony nominations, Iman noted she was focused on that day’s event: “It just warms my heart to see this many Black women gathering to love on each other,” but she is so grateful for Broadway’s recognition. Bioh reflected, “You worked so hard for so many years; you put your head down and work, and then you look up and you can’t believe how far you’ve gone.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 10: Phylicia Rashad and Danielle Brooks attend the 3rd Annual Black Women on Broadway Awards at The Lighthouse, Pier 61 on June 10, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Getty Images for BWOB)
Phylicia Rashad and Danielle Brooks at the 3rd Annual Black Women on Broadway Awards. Image: Jared Siskin/Getty Images for BWOB.

Among the sea of talented and shining Black women, who filled the room in colorful and stylish attire, the organization recognized three such trailblazers from the Broadway community. Costume designer Dede Ayite received the Kathy A. Perkins Behind the Curtain Award and actress Aisha Jackson received the Florence Mills Shining Star Award. Broadway royalty Phylicia Rashad presented the Audra McDonald Legacy Award to Irene Gandy for her outstanding achievements in producing and marketing on Broadway for over 50 years.

When the most talented Black women from the Broadway world convene in space, the air becomes electrified, especially for actresses up for a Tony this year, like Nikki M. James. She plays real-life activist Ida B. Wells in Suffs and has been nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

“The best part about being in Suffs is bringing Ida to the people and reminding them who she is. Ida’s name should be at the front of people’s minds when they think about Black excellence and incredible activism,” James shared. “I feel very strongly that she visits [the theater] every once in a while…I often will walk off stage and say the ancestors were here today.”

For the nominated women attending the 77th Annual Tony Awards, airing live on June 16, 2024, on CBS, Tony winner Joaquina Kalukango had some sage advice: “Enjoy it. Kenny Leon told me one time during that season to take it all in,” she exclaimed. “Be appreciative of the moment, you’re already a winner.”

And for the women in that room, who heard BWOB founders Bioh, Brooks and Iman call off each and every one of their names as the ceremony closed, they were.

Updated: June 13, 2024 — 6:02 pm