The BET Awards on Sunday included tear-jerking tributes to Prince and Muhammad Ali in addition to a viral-worthy performance by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. However, the most memorable moment came from actor Jesse Williams who called for an end to police killings and inequality spread across a thick racial divide.
The 34-year-old actor who portrays Dr. Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy delivered a five-minute acceptance speech while accepting the award for Humanitarian of the Year. As a former teacher, Williams has dedicated his life to unconditional human rights. Williams credits his parents, born to a white mother and a black father, for shaping his activist fervor.
“This award, this is not for me, this is for the real organizers all over the country: the activists, the civil rights attorney’s, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.”
His recent documentary entitled Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement premiered last month on BET. He also produces "Question Bridge" a project chronicling the lives of black men in America, and works with Sankofa an organization dedicated to ending racial inequality.
“The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize. Now this is also, in particular, for the black women who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you. We are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”
After a thunderous applause and standing ovation from the audience, Williams had more words regarding those who have been killed at the hands of public servants.
“Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to hear about how far we’ve come…Tell Rekia Boyd how much better it is to live in 212 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712.Tell that to Eric Garner.Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.”
Williams had a message to those who voice their opinions on how those victims would still be alive had they acted a different way.
“If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
His message was so impactful the hashtag #JesseWilliamsAppreciationDay began trending on social media.
Check out a list of BET Award winners and a full transcript of Williams’ speech below.
2016 BET Award winners:
Best Male R&B/Pop Artist — Bryson Tiller
Best Female R&B/Pop Artist — Beyoncé
Best Actor — Michael B. Jordan
Best Actress — Taraji P. Henson
Best Movie — Straight Outta Compton
Best New Artist — Bryson Tiller
Video of the Year — Beyoncé, “Formation”
Best Male Hip-Hop Artist — Drake
Best Female Hip-Hop Artist — Nicki Minaj
Best Collaboration — Rihanna ft. Drake, “Work”
Best Group — Drake and Future
Best Gospel — Kirk Franklin
Youngsters Award — Amandla Stenberg
Centric Award — Beyoncé, “Formation”
Video Director of the Year — Director X
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Dr. Bobby Jones Gospel Inspirational Award — Kirk Franklin
Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice Award — Beyoncé, “Formation”
Sportsman of the Year — Stephen Curry
Sportswoman of the Year — Serena Williams
Best International Act Africa — Wizkid (Nigeria)
Best International Act U.K. — Skepta
Lifetime Achievement Award — Samuel L. Jackson
Humanitarian Award — Jesse Williams read his full speech below:
This award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students, that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.
All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics:, the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize. Now this is also in particular for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.
Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.
Now — I’ve got more, y’all. Yesterday would’ve been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday, so I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.
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Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now dedicating our lives to get money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.
There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done, there’s been no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would’ve been alive if she hadn’t acted so… “free.”
Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now. And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, all right, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.
We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is that just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real.
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