Skip to Content

Jesse Williams may not have been a household name prior to the 2016 BET Awards.

He’s grown in popularity as a key cast member on Grey’s Anatomy, but he’s still flown under the Hollywood radar for the most part.

That’s because Williams is more likely to help out with an important cause then have lunch at The Grove…

… but that’s also why he was honored at the aforementioned ceremony.

Jesse Williams at BET Awards
Photo via Getty

In accepting the Humanitarian Award, Williams earned a standing ovation, thanking both his parents and his wife before dedicating his award to “the real organizers all over the country,” those he said are realizing that “a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.”

The actor continued:

"The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize,” prior to acknowleding black women, “who have spent their lives dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you."

Jesse Williams GIF
Photo via BET

Williams worked as a history teacher before he started acting.

He’s a member of the board of directors at both The Advancement Project (a national civil rights organization) and Sankofa, a social justice organization founded by Harry Belafonte.

The latter works to unite artists and grassroot partners to elevate the voices of the disenfranchised.

Freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now," Williams said, concluding as follows:

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, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strained fruit.

The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

Jesse Williams at the BET Awards
Photo via BET

Beautiful stuff. Inspiring stuff.

Watch the full speech below.