Actor and activist Jesse Williams was honored with the BET Awards 2016 Humanitarian Award on Sunday, June 26.
Upon accepting, he towered over the way too short microphone with gum in his mouth and gave thanks to his parents and wife, who were in the audience.
But it was only after that that the real speech began.
“This award, this is not for me,” the Grey’s Anatomy star said. He honored activists, civil rights attorneys, parents, teachers, “the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do,” and particularly, black women.
Other highlights of the award show included a tribute to Prince and a Stevie Wonder performance, but Williams most definitely stole the show. His impassioned speech called for an end to police brutality, racial inequality and cultural appropriation.
Williams wasn’t the only celebrity making a political statement that night. Usher performed with “Don’t Trump America” written on his back, and when Empire‘s Taraji P. Henson accepted her Best Actress award, she warned the audience about Donald Trump.
This isn’t the first time Williams has taken a public stand against racism. Williams, a former teacher, can constantly be seen championing causes related to civil rights. He starred in and produced Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, a documentary that premiered last month on BET.
Williams also produces Question Bridge, an art project about the experience of black men in America, according to the New York Times, and works with Sankofa, an organization dedicated to ending racial injustice.
Williams’ mother is white and his father is black, and he told The Guardian last year that it was his parents who shaped his activist roots, and said that being biracial allowed him to see both sides of a cultural divide.
His speech at the 2016 BET Awards had the audience on their feet shouting their praises for the outspoken actor.
“‘You’re free,’ they keep telling us,” he said. “‘But she would’ve been alive if she hadn’t acted so … free.’”
Read highlights from the speech below:
What we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, 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 in ours. … Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s fourteenth birthday. So I don’t want to hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a twelve-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 it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.
Freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. “But she would have been alive it 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’d 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, 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, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.
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