Actor and activist Jesse Williams won the BET Humanitarian Award on June 26, 2016. Williams, who serves on the board of the Advancement Project, is the son of public school teachers and a former U.S. history teacher (in Philadelphia) himself. He acknowledged the role of teachers and students learning history (outside the textbook) in his acceptance speech. Here is an excerpt,
I want to thank my parents for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, they made sure I learned what the schools are afraid to teach us.
Now, this award, this is not for me, this is for the real organizers all over the country, activist civil rights attorneys, the parents, the teachers, the students who are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics, the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.
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 strange fruit. The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.
Watch the full speech below and/or read here.
Two years ago, Williams was one of the readers in the 2014 Voices Performance in Los Angeles. He read Zinn’s “The Problem Is Civil Obedience” (November 1970), from Voices of a People’s History of the United States on November 13, 2014, at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center George and Sakaye Aratani Japan America Theatre in Los Angeles, California. The message is timely.