Step Up feted Lea Michele and Gabrielle Union at its 13th annual Inspiration Awards on Friday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.
Garcelle Beauvais served as emcee while January Jones, Aimee Garcia and Lisa Ling handed out awards to this year’s inspiring teens, including graduating senior Rocio Robledo. “Modern Family” star Julie Bowen used her humor to help drum up donations for the org, which goes towards after-school and mentorship programs for girls in under-resourced communities.
“Look at your shoes,” Bowen instructed. “Double it. And give it.”
Those who attended the luncheon, including Union’s husband Dwyane Wade, were moved by teens who described how Step Up’s mentorships inspired them to become part of the next generation of professional women. Michele spoke of her mother’s inspiring “glass half full” attitude, despite her “less than desirable home life,” and her attempt to emulate that kind strength.
“Being a shero sounds impossible,” Michele said. “But we can all be sheroes together. My wish for the Step Up girls is to stand up and support one another.”
Union, who spoke candidly about the self-esteem issues that she’s battled throughout her lifetime, delivered one of most powerful speeches of the night. She prefaced her brutal honesty to the crowd with “I can’t tell you where I am without where I’ve been.”
Union shared some of the self-deprecating thoughts that crept into her psyche during hard times, including when she blamed herself for being raped as a teen.
“I was a joke and a loser and this is what happens,” she thought as a 19-year-old rape survivor.
“Along with being the chip in the cookie at a very young age,” Union said she was also often cast as the token black friend. She stated that her parents’ advice to her was that she would always have to “be bigger and better just to be considered equal.”
The actress added, “What that does to the self-esteem of a small child is to say you are always not going to be good enough.”
Union ended her speech with some of her own advice: “You have to stop being crippled by fear of being humiliated.” She then encouraged everyone to replace the negative voice that says, “You’re a joke and a loser” with “You’re dope, fly and amazing.”
(Pictured: Garcelle Beauvais, Essence Atkins and Gabrielle Union)