Did Jesse Williams BET Award speech really make a change?
At this years’ BET Awards Grey’s Anatomy actor Jesse Williams delivered a heart wrenching speech urging Black people to not accept conditional freedom and explaining the necessity for celebrities to use their platforms to make a change. While the focus of the speech was a reflection on the Black community and what we can do to achieve greater change, it also served as a warning sign to the greater America:
“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is, we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”
A little over a week after Jesse Williams made this urge to stop killing Black people and give them real freedom Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were both murdered by police officers. People of all races and nationalities used social media to express their dissatisfaction with the system. Pleas for the safety of Black men, prayers asking for protection against these injustices, reflection and words of encouragement flooded people’s timelines. The most surprising part of this was the level of support from high profile celebrities.
In the past many Black and white celebrities known for appropriating Black culture have been very silent concerning issues surrounding the value of Black life in America, but more and more, celebrities have spoken out as a result of these recent deaths.
Some of the most prominent celebrities to step forward are Beyoncé, Jay Z and Drake. Beyoncé stopped her show in Glasgow to honor Philando and Alton with her song “Freedom” a cappella. She also posted an open letter where she told her fans, “It is up to us to take a stand and demand that they “stop killing us.”
Drake also posted a very emotional reflection on the current events. In an open letter on his instagram he expressed his concern for the safety of so many people as the relationships between Blacks and Browns with law enforcement continue to be strained. He ended his letter with high hopes that change was coming soon.
Jay Z released a song, “Spiritual,” where he rapped, “I am not poison/ Just a boy from the hood that got my hands in the air in despair/ don’t shoot. I just want to do good.” The lyrics were meaningful, but the most impactful part of the song is the story behind the release. Jay Z recorded “Spiritual” a while ago and he was pushed to release it when Mike Brown died, but he refused because, “this issue will always be relevant” and he knew Brown’s death would not be the last. This song embodies what people have been feeling for so many years with no change.
In addition to the many social media posts, some celebrities have also started taking charge with action. Singer August Alsina marched the streets of Baton Rouge, T.I. marched in Atlanta, and Keke Palmer hosted a community discussion to develop solutions in New York.
Immediately following the murders Janet Jackson tweeted her song, “Can’t be Stopped” and a video compilation of Black Lives Matters demonstrations, the civil rights movement, and the Jesse Williams speech. The song reminded Black people that despite the current struggle, this is not new and the blood of ancestors will bring the strength to fight these battles.
The cycle of the Black Lives Matter support fluctuates throughout the year. On a daily basis there are organizers working hard to push the mission of Black Lives Matter, but the majority support is not evident until another life has been taken. A week after the killings of Alton and Philano, celebrities have come together to speak up again addressing the bigger picture of this entire issue, Black people are systematically and unjustly killed in America. In a series of videos entitled, “23 ways you could be killed if you’re Black in America,” stars like Kevin Hart, Alicia Keys, Chris Rock, Beyoncé, Pink, and Van Jones recap 23 different actions that have led to the unjust death of a Black persons’ death.
With all of the recent activism from so many celebrities it makes it seem like Jesse Williams’ speech may have reached his audience successfully. Can we credit Jesse Williams for this activism from celebrities or was it a natural reaction because like actress Taraji P Henson said, we’re all just “sick and tired of being sick and tired?”