The 2016 BET Awards were probably the network’s most flawless awards show to date. The tributes to Prince ranged from spectacular (Shelia E.) to fitting (Janelle Monaé) and even “take ’em to church” (Jennifer Hudson’s “Purple Rain”). Desiigner literally scared the hell out of Fabolous, Beyoncé opened the show with Kendrick Lamar, saw the meter was running on her magic cloud parked outside and dipped and then some. But Jesse Williams’ speech while receiving the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award was the biggest winner of the night. The biggest, blackest winner of the night.

Though it probably gets no blacker than realizing Shelia E. sang “Erotic City” on Nickelodeon last night, Williams’ speech turned an auditorium of rappers, singers and actors into a congregation clapping and “yassing” at every word. Williams has been one of the more vocal members of Hollywood in regards to Black Lives Matter and his ‘Stay Woke’ documentary on the rise of the movement struck a nerve across the board. Working with Sankofa, an organization dedicated to ending racial injustice, producing for Question Bridge, an art project about the experience of black men in America, Williams’ bonafides are quite valid. It’s him constantly ruffling the feathers of pundits on news shows about the merits of Black Lives Matter and challenging them to understand why the organization and those that believe in the organization want change in policing and heightened awareness about the struggles of black and brown men and women across the country.

Co-signs from Nate Parker and Harry Belafonte were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the 34-year-old actor from Chicago. He delivered a rousing speech that not only received a standing ovation from those in the audience but those on social media as well.

He made certain to remark that the award wasn’t for him but for the organizers, protesters and others on the front lines doing work, the black women who are constantly berated and abused yet support us more than any other. “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.”

“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,” Williams said. He closed with a line that may have stood taller than any other phrase of the night. “Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

You can read the full transcript of Williams’ speech via Genius below.


About The Author

Brandon Caldwell is the founder & editor-in-chief of Day & A Dream. His work has appeared in VIBE, UPROXX, Complex, EBONY, the Village Voice, the Houston Press, Houston Style Magazine, DJBooth, The Sports Fans Journal, and more. Follow him on Twitter: @_brandoc