Jesse Williams, pictured while delivering his incredible BET Humanitarian Award acceptance speech
Credit: Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET

Accepting the Humanitarian Award at today’s BET Awards “for his continued efforts and steadfast commitment to furthering social change”, actor Jessie Williams delivered a speech that put into powerful words the sentiments behind Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar’s explosive opening number.

Put simply, it is the performance of his career to date. Samuel L. Jackson would later remark during the broadcast that Williams delivered a speech that is the closest thing he has seen to a speech delivered by a Civil Rights activist in the 1960s.

At the outset of his speech, Williams dedicates his award to the real organisers “all over the country, the activist, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realising that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It’s kinda basic mathematics: the more we learn about who we are and how we got here the more we will mobilise.”

“This award is also for the black women in particular who have spent their lives nurturing everyone before themselves — we can and will do better for you.”
Then, in the moment that brings his audience to their feet in a standing ovation, Williams invokes a few of the names of the black victims of police brutality: Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland:

“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’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours. I got more, y’all.

“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.”
Williams concludes with an indictment of contemporary America’s predilection for cultural appropriation at the expense of a peoples’ freedom:

“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! – ghettoising and demeaning our creations and stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”

Watch the brilliant full speech below.

Tile image: Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET