Those who showed up at the BET Awards came for an awards show and a sermon broke out. Jesse Williams’ speech made the rest of the night feel moot.
The actor/activist accepted the Humanitarian Award for his work in the black community. After going through his customary thank yous and acknowledgements, he said this:
A system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.
It was at that point you could feel everyone in the audience knew that the focus of the night shifted and that “ratchet” wasn’t a part of the equation. He cited facts and figures, telling the audience that police officers manage to peacefully de-escalate situations with people everyday, but clearly that’s not the case for black people. He demanded equal rights and justice in our own country, or “we will restructure their function and ours.” Everyone gave him a standing ovation but it wasn’t over.
“Yesterday would’ve been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to hear 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 it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.”
Doesn’t even feel right to comment on this right now, so I’ll let Mr. Williams continue.
Alright, now dedicating our lives, dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right 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 front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There has been no tax they haven’t leveed against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would have 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.
You don’t need me to tell you Jesse’s right but I will anyway. To say everything he said in a room full of like-minded people is one thing, but the BET Awards isn’t just on BET anymore. It’s simulcast on MTV, MTV2. VH1, Comedy Central…and Nickelodeon. That means that there is potentially a little kid out there watching this until Spongebob comes on and he or she got this incredible message. Viacom may even catch some hell for this from their investors, but it seems like Debra Lee is perfectly cool with that if it does happen.