Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams won a standing ovation at last night’s BET Awards after a rousing acceptance speech calling for black America to unite against a ‘system built to divide and impoverish’.
The Black Lives Matter activist was declared humanitarian of the year at the annual prize-giving.
But far from resting on his laurels, the former public school teacher used his moment in the spotlight to continue his work highlighting the continuing plight of black people in the United States.
He told a TV audience of millions: ‘This award is not for me.
‘This is for 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.’
His early words were met with widespread applause–a response that only grew in strength as his impassioned pleas continued.
He went on: ‘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.’
Led by the likes of Samuel L Jackson, the thousands gathered in Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater took to their feet, cheering in agreement as the activist echoed the sentiments of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Williams continued: ‘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 actor–who plays Dr Jackson Avery in Greys–then took aim at the use of black culture for financial gain in the face of devalued black lives.
He said: ‘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?
‘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.’
The 34-year-old was then applauded off stage, gripping his award in one hand as he raised a clenched fist with the other.
Speaking to the gathered press later, he added: ‘We live here, we pay taxes, we should be able to talk about it. Just because I can dunk or act doesn’t mean I have to shut the hell up about issues that actually impact me and my people.
‘We cannot allow the society to separate, to extract from the black community, the best and brightest in a particular genre of expression that makes money for white corporations, and then separate us from the rest of the people.
‘People out here are suffering. People out here are poor and abandoned and unsupported, and just because we get to be here tonight doesn’t mean that we’ve made it.’