It’s safe to say that 34-year-old Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams stole the BET Awards on Sunday night with a wildly inspirational, confrontational speech that is bound to become a cornerstone of the Black Lives Matter movement. Later in the show, Samuel L. Jackson said he hadn’t heard a speech like it since the 1960s.
Williams has appeared in multiple films, but he was honored with BET’s Humanitarian Award for his activism. In October 2014, he joined protests in Ferguson, Missouri to protest the shooting of Michael Brown. He was also an actor and executive producer of Stay Woke, a documentary about the movement that premiered in May. He has written extensively on Black Lives Matter and met with President Obama earlier this year to discuss his humanitarian work.
BET CEO Debra Lee presented his award “for his continued efforts and steadfast commitment to furthering social change.”
He began by thanking BET and all involved in the video that preceded his appearance, his wife and his parents “for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, they made sure I learned what the schools are afraid to teach us.
“This award is not for me,” he continued. “This is for the real organizers all over the country, the activist, 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. It’s kinda basic mathematics: the more we learn about who we are and how we got here the more we will mobilize.
“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.
“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. [Standing ovation.]
“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.
“Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner, Sandra Bland.
“The thing is though, all of us here are getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. Dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back to put 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 front lines of. There is no job we haven’t done, there is no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we have paid all of them.
“But freedom is always conditional here. ‘You’re free!’ they keeping telling us. ‘But she would be alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.’ Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but the hereafter is a hustle: We want it now.
“Let’s get a couple of things straight. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander — that’s not our job so let’s stop with all that. If you have a critique for our resistance then you’d better have an established record, a 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 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 full speech below: