BLACK VOICES

Tina Knowles-Lawson: 'I Have A Right To Be Where I Choose' As A Black Woman

The fashion designer and stylist was honored by Black Excellence Brunch founder Trell Thomas during the Essence Festival.

Tina Knowles-Lawson is nothing less than unapologetic.

That was evident as she accepted an award at the Black Excellence Brunch at the historic black-owned Treme Market Branch in New Orleans during Essence Festival weekend. Knowles-Lawson, who is the mother of iconic artists Beyoncé and Solange, was honored for her community work and accomplishments with the WACO Theater Center, which she founded with her husband Richard Lawson to empower young people from diverse backgrounds through art.

The stylist, known for the flamboyant designs she made for Destiny’s Child, said she knows the significance of art, but unfortunately black youth don’t always have access to pursue that path and thrive. She spoke at the brunch and in an interview with HuffPost about her firsthand experience with the barriers.

“I have a right to be where I choose to be and that sometimes you gotta fight for that a little bit but it really is important,” she told HuffPost. “So as far as my style, my fashion, I’ve just always had confidence. I mean, even when I probably shouldn’t have had confidence, cause I look back on some of those clothes and we laugh and say, ‘What the hell were we thinking?’ but at the time, I felt 100 percent confident that this was the best thing for this time and it was.”

In conversation with Black Excellence Brunch founder Trell Thomas after receiving the award, Knowles-Lawson discussed a trying time in her career when fashion and music gatekeepers tried to police her methods and block her designs.

Tina Knowles-Lawson and Trell Thomas at the Black Excellence Brunch during the Essence Festival.
Tina Knowles-Lawson and Trell Thomas at the Black Excellence Brunch during the Essence Festival.

“Coming into the styling business, I remember that I wasn’t this really educated, articulate woman and I think that sometimes they tried to push me to the back and say you didn’t know what you were doing,” she told attendees. “The record labels saying, ‘She doesn’t have any experience, she doesn’t know what she’s doing, she’s over-dressing the girls.’ ... I thought I belonged there and I think that was the biggest challenge, just people writing me off because I didn’t have a formal education.

She said that doubt was the “hardest thing to overcome.”

Thomas, who created the brunch to combat the negative narratives of blacks in the mainstream, said that Knowles-Lawson taught him the power in being unapologetically black. 

“I grew up in super small town Cassatt, South Carolina, where I remember people [would be] walking by locking their doors,” Thomas told HuffPost. “Black people were seen in a certain light so I was always shrinking myself … and I’ve been in rooms with Ms. Tina, big meetings, and I saw her just be strong and unapologetic and it gave me the license to do it, too.”

Knowles-Lawson urged other black people to feel that same sense of belonging. 

“I will fight to be where I am because I know I can go anywhere where I should be,” she said. “I always knew that our music was amazing ... and we’re flyer than anybody else, so I never felt like I had to be somebody else.”

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