Jesse Williams' Speech at the BET Awards: Everything You Need to Know

After receiving the Humanitarian Award, the actor delivered a powerful speech.

ByRicki Harris
June 27, 2016, 11:36 AM

— -- Accomplished actor and activist Jesse Williams delivered a powerful speech Sunday night after receiving BET’s Humanitarian Award at the annual award show.

Known by many as Dr. Jackson Avery on "Grey’s Anatomy," the 34-year-old also plays a large role in the Black Lives Matter movement. Debra Lee, chairwoman and CEO of BET, presented the award to Williams, referring to him as a “tireless champion of change, and a voice for the voiceless."

The actor soon took the stage, thanked his family and all the others working for equality, and delivered a poignant message on race relations. His moving words were met with a standing ovation.

Read the full speech below.

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? 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 deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we’re 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 14th 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 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich.

Tell Rakia 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 Dorian Hunt. Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t gonna stop this. Alright? Now dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right this 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 frontlines of, there has been no job that we have not done, there is no tax they haven’t levied against us. 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.

Let’s get something straight, just a little side note. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. 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, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.

Williams received rousing applause, both from the crowd and from fans virtually. The twittersphere quickly showered the history-teacher-turned-actor with praise for his inspiring message.

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