"I'm here for all the incredible protestors, activists, attorneys, organizers that are sacrificing [an] incredibly great deal to be heard and get access to equal rights and justice in this country," Williams told ET's Kevin Frazier at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday. "[The BET Awards] recognizing me is really recognizing them in my view, and I think that means that we're getting traction."
The 34-year-old actor and political activist was honored during the show with the BET Humanitarian Award, and delivered a fiery oration calling for freedom and justice against an oppressive system.
Williams, a father of two, explained that being a parent helps motivate him, but stressed, "My personal experience doesn’t necessarily fuel my ability to see humanity in places, and in the places they tell us it doesn't lurk… We should be able to ask others to see themselves in us and we should be able to see ourselves in others."
During his speech, Williams argued for the right to equality and railed against racism in America. "Freedom is somehow always conditional here," he told the audience, who were on their feet throughout most of his time on stage. "Freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now."
After his speech, Samuel L. Jackson commended Williams while accepting the BET Lifetime Achievement Award, marveling, "Jesse's the closest thing I've heard to a 1960s activist. That brother is right, and he is true."
"He was just a really gentle soul but I found his talent to be really radiant and I always made a point to see anything I saw he was in. I told him as much," Williams shared.
"As an actor, a lot of times we get competitive and kind of stand offish and I just realized he had an incredible talent and I wanted to make sure he was somebody I looked to emulate and he made great choices," he added. "So it's a really crazy loss."
Currently, Williams is getting ready for the return of his ABC medical drama, Grey's Anatomy, which is set to kick off its 13th season in the fall. He spoke to ET about the series' return and its resurging popularity.
"The ratings are better than they have been in a long time. We're back on this upward trajectory. You feel that on set," Williams explained. "It's a new dynamic in terms of production and leadership on the show and people are kind of poised and excited."