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Jesse Williams Delivers Impassioned Speech At the BET Awards Calling for Justice and Equality

by Zach Seemayer 9:10 PM PDT, June 26, 2016
Playing Jesse Williams Delivers Impassioned Speech At the BET Awards Calling for Justice and Equality

Jesse Williams brought down the house at the BET Awards on Sunday with an impassioned, politically charged speech that brought the audience to their feet and left an indelible mark on the proceedings.

The Grey's Anatomy star and political activist was honored with the BET Humanitarian Award, presented by BET CEO Debra L. Lee. Williams thanked his parents, who he brought to the awards show, for "teaching me to focus on comprehension over career. They made sure to that I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us."

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"This award, this is not for me," Williams said, holding the award in the air. "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 realize that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It's basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we mobilize."

"We've been looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day," Williams said. "So what's going to happen is we're gonna have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function, and ours."

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Williams' words hit home with the audience, as many stood up from their seats and applauded his rousing oration.

During his speech, Williams mentioned a number of people who have been killed by police over the past few years, including Tamir Rice -- who Williams said would have turned 14 yesterday -- as well as Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Darrien Hunt, among others.

"There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There's no job we haven't done, there's no tax they haven't levied against us, and we've paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here."

"Freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now," Williams continued.

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"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," Williams said. "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, then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though, just because we're magic doesn’t mean we're not real."

Williams words elicited one of the loudest standing ovations of the evening, with many in the crowd brought to tears.

Later in the show, Samuel L. Jackson praised Williams while accepting the BET Lifetime Achievement Award, sharing, "Jesse's the closest thing I've heard to a 1960s activist. That brother is right, and he is true."

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Jackson also echoed the sentiments of many presenters and award recipients of the evening, encouraging viewers to get out and vote in November, with the implication that it's important to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president.

"Make sure you vote, and take eight people with you to vote. Don't get tricked like they got tricked in London," Jackson said.

Before presenting Williams with his award, Lee also stressed the importance of filling out a ballot, pleading, "Use your voice and vote."

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Taraji P. Henson, who took home the Best Actress award, used her acceptance speech to deliver an important message as well. "I'm really not political but it's serious out here," Henson said. "And for those who think, 'Oh, he's not gonna win.' Think again. So we really need to pull together and turn this country around."

From the start of the show, it was clear this year's BET Awards would be addressing political issues head on when Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar delivered a surprise performance of her song "Freedom." Check out the video below for a look at the explosive opening number.

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