Jesse Williams Delivers Powerful Speech at BET Awards

Jesse Williams 2016 BET Awards speechWhile the 2016 BET Awards was full of jaw dropping moments that sent the internet abuzz, it was Jesse Williams who truly won the night.

The 34-year-old actor and activist was the recipient of this year’s Humanitarian Award for his efforts in bringing attention and awareness to the Black Lives Matters Movement.

In his inspirational speech, Williams demanded equal rights and called for an end to police brutality against black people. “A system built to impoverish, divide and destroy us cannot stand if we do,” he said, adding, “We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day.”

Most notably, he compared spending money on brands to the days when slaves were branded with their owners’ markings. “Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money…that alone isn’t gonna stop this,” he said. “Dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our bodies, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies?”

He also pointed out that it’s not the job of the brutalized to comfort the bystander. “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,” he said.

While Twitter was quick to praise Williams for his words, he said backstage that he hopes his remarks during the show remind people “just because we get to be here tonight doesn’t mean we made it.”

“What I’d like to see us do is return to a space where it’s OK for folks to be proud and outwardly black in public,” he said, “and not have to feel like we have to be safe to live in white spaces and to make everybody comfortable when we’ve spent centuries being uncomfortable. It’s time to shed that fear.”

The response to Williams’ provoking speech has been largely positive, with fans applauding his points, and some even calling for him to run for president.

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*Edited and modified by Jasmine Ginyard