Such a moving moment. Jesse Williams delivered a poignant acceptance speech for his Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards on Sunday, June 26.
The Grey’s Anatomy star, 34, was honored for his activism and dedication to the Black Lives Matter movement. After an emotional video tribute highlighting all of Williams’ charity work, BET chairwoman and CEO Debra Lee shared some sweet words about the hunky actor.
“Tonight’s honoree has been a tireless champion of change, and a voice for the voiceless,” Lee said. “Jesse Williams is the essence of a modern civil rights legend in the making. And a true pioneer of our new generation of leaders.”
The dad of Sadie, 2, and Maceo, 9 months, then took the stage to thank all those who have helped him along the way, including his wife, Aryn Drake-Lee, and his parents.
“Now, 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?” he explained. “It’s kind of basic mathematics: The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”
The ABC star continued, “Now, this is also in particular for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetime dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves — we can and will do better for you.”
Williams — who is the youngest member of the board of directors at the Advancement Project (a civil rights advocacy group) and who produced and starred in 2014’s Stay Woke, a documentary following the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement — also took modern-day racism to task in his oration.
“We are gonna have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function, and ours,” he said midspeech, for which he received a standing ovation.
Williams also spoke out about Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and other black victims who were killed in fatal shootings over the last several years.
“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,” he told the audience. “Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.”
“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 … 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,” Williams stated. “The thing is, though — just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
As previously reported, Justin Timberlake — who’s been accused of appropriating black culture — took to Twitter on Sunday night to comment on Williams’ remarks.
“@iJesseWilliams tho…#Inspired #BET2016,” the “Can’t Stop the Feeling” singer, 35, wrote. Immediately, his tweet was met with major backlash.
Social media users slammed the ‘NSync alum for benefiting from black culture while not doing anything to promote the Black Lives Matter cause. They also criticized him for his lack of defense for Janet Jackson following the pair’s infamous Super Bowl performance in 2004.
“Did you like the part when Jesse talked about white people stealing from us? That should resonate with you,” blasted one Twitter user, while another wrote: “So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too?”
“Oh, you sweet soul,” Timberlake fired back in response. “The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation.”
Moments later, he apologized for lashing out. “I feel misunderstood,” he wrote. “I responded to a specific tweet that wasn’t meant to be a general response. I shouldn’t have responded anyway…” he added.
“I forget this forum sometimes…” he went on. “I was truly inspired by @iJesseWilliams speech because I really do feel that we are all one… A human race. I apologize to anyone that felt I was out of turn. I have nothing but LOVE FOR YOU AND ALL OF US. –JT.”
Watch Williams’ speech above.