Jesse Williams Opens Up About His BET Awards Speech: ‘The History of My People Armors Me’

Jesse Williams Opens Up About His BET Awards Speech: ‘The History of My People Armors Me’

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Actor Jesse Williams is talking more about his politically charged BET Awards speech June 26. TheGrey’s Anatomy star earned a standing ovation while receiving the Humanitarian Award for his activism and support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Words are only as good as the response to those words,” Williams told People of his speech. “But I’d like to think that I give people a sense that they are not alone.”

The 34-year-old dedicated the honor to “the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers of students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.”

Williams believes tackling issues in the education system is the first step in solving issues of racism, cultural appropriation and social injustice – themes he addressed while accepting the trophy.

“Otherwise, we are treating the symptoms and not the sickness,” said Williams, who added that schools don’t usually correctly teach “about African people and the contributions of brown people in the history of the world and this country.”

It’s something he knows about first hand, based on his experience working as a teacher in Philadelphia. Atlanta Black Star reported the Temple University alum taught English, African Studies and American Studies in the local public school system.

“If we keep poisoning our children to believe that we are nothing and that white people are everything, that’s when it finds itself reflected in the way we treat each other,” Williams continued to People. “It’s not that complicated.”

“The truth we are teaching is that every contribution in the history of the planet came from blonde people,” he said, echoing his sentiments made in Sunday night’s speech. “It’s not true and it’s destructive and people are getting killed long-term as a result. People don’t believe that we deserve it.”

Speaking about his learning experiences growing up, Williams said his “really horrible” school system did not affect his education on Black culture.

He said his parents “gave me more work at home from them than I ever got from school. To learn about the history of myself and my people and that armors me.”

The activist plans to create a reading list and distribute it online for others to educate themselves on Black history not usually taught in schools, noting there are many cultural occurrences between African civilization and Fredrick Douglass.