ROC Awards Celebrates Rochester’s Talent, Business and Success

This year the ROC Awards had a more social justice angle than previous years, coinciding with one of Rochester residents' most vocal year. Credit: Michele Ashlee

This year the ROC Awards had a more social justice angle than previous years, coinciding with one of Rochester residents’ most vocal year. Credit: Michele Ashlee

Most ROC Award attendees are used to blustery, frigid February temperatures but Sunday’s mild weather allowed showing up and showing out to be even easier. No coats meant the ballgowns could be seen billowing down West Ridge Road as attendees made their way to this year’s show.

The fifth annual ROC Awards took place at The Kodak Center for Performing Arts Sunday evening, bringing together some of the city’s most talented, successful and active. The awards ceremony represents over a dozen categories including best black business and best (male/female) performing artists. It’s one night where Rochester can truly shine, attendants said.

“We don’t get a lot of credit here normally,” said Rochelle Lee, a 16-year-old attendant who came with her father, David. She said as a singer, it gives her something to strive for locally. “I learned Rochester has pretty cool history and I know a lot of talented people so it’s nice to see that on the stage. And it’s even cooler because I know many of these people. You don’t have to leave to get recognition and maybe we can make that…market for ourselves.”

This year separated past ceremonies because of the better production of the show, said organizers. Although the turnout was less than last year,  it overall had the theme of being bigger and better than years before. Level 5 as it was themed was all about turning up and showing out- two things Rochester residents definitely know how to do. From ballgowns to colorful kente cloth, attendees showed excitement over celebrating not only winners but each other.

The ROC Awards attract some of the biggest names and faces in the city, including prominent artist Reenah Golden. Credit; Michele Ashlee

The ROC Awards attract some of the biggest names and faces in the city, including prominent artist Reenah Golden. Credit; Michele Ashlee

“I’m not even going up on stage,” said Charles Green who was dressed in an all-black tuxedo and bright white and black wing-tip shoes. “I’m not a performer but to me, you can’t have celebration without an audience and that’s what I am.”

“It’s nothing really like the ROC Awards,” said Shaq Payne, nominee for best male poet. He stopped by Open Mic’s backstage table to quickly discuss the importance of the night and upcoming projects. “You got gospel artists, you got rap artists, you got poets…businesses all coming together and, I mean, the award part is a small part but to actually be here, enjoy this and take it all in, it’s nice because, let them tell it, we can’t have this. We can’t have something nice.”

CEO Yolanda Smilez has dedicated much of her time to putting on events and ceremonies that buck this stereotype that any event in the city will devolve into violence. She’s organized comedy shows, helped with other performances and every year she undertakes the task of putting another ROC Awards. It feels a hole in the community; for one, there are virtually no awards ceremony that focuses exclusively on the arts and, there are definitely none that only focus on the city’s minority residents. Previously, the ROC Awards focused on the city’s black population but this year the Latinx community has been included.

“The ROC Awards is an opportunity to celebrate and bring recognition to Rochester’s talent. We are the only award show that recognizes contributions made by urban artists and Black and Latino owned businesses,” said Smilez in an earlier press release.

Throughout the night many were recognized for their talent and success but the ROC Awards stands out for also being committed to the community and focusing on people who trying to better the Rochester area. The show has been frequently criticized for being a popularity contest more than recognizing winners’ merits, as OM will explore in coming days, but organizers are hoping changes made this year to the process and purposed for next year will cut down on those complaints.

“There’s no denying this is a good thing,” said Chantel Lewis, a local activist and attendant, “I think people worry though if they can’t see the nominees beforehand, like a list or something, how can it be done fairly? And there are claims of people who probably shouldn’t have won but they had a bigger network. I mean but there’s nothing like the ROC Awards, I love it. But i think with anything so young there will be some issues. Now we just need to work them out and make it better next year!”

(Editor’s note: OM will explore these allegations further in the coming week)

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