Instant Follow Friday: Jesse Williams, Grey’s Anatomy Bae and Black Lives Matter Activist
Williams recently won the Humanitarian Award at this year’s BET Awards for his “continued efforts and steadfast commitment to furthering social change,” and delivered an incredibly speech on social justice, racism and police brutality that brought the entire crowd (and Internet) to their feet cheering.
As we previously reported, during his speech he thanked his parents, and dedicated the award to those who tirelessly fight against systemic racism (“the activists, 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”), as well as “in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you,” he added.
Williams also memorialized people killed by police or while in police custody like Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Darrien Hunt, at the same time condemning racism and police brutality against Africans Americans, adding “we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”
After, he challenged those who “critique the resistance” and eloquently described the way black culture is consumed and commodified by “whiteness”:
We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, 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
Williams, who is biracial, has long been a prominent voice of the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition to serving on the board of directors for a civil rights organization The Advancement Project, a “multi-racial civil rights organization,” he executive-produced and appears in a BET original documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Laurens Grant. The documentary featuring first-hand accounts from activists, journalists, scholars, protestors and others, and chronicles the evolution of the movement.
While discussing the documentary back in May, Williams told the Huffington Post:
Black Lives Matter is in many ways, in its adolescence. It’s an ongoing movement, so we wanted to be sure that as we catalog its origin story and machination, we also wanted to be sure we do not treat it as a fixed, finite, closed circle. We want to look back without being conclusive. That was really important to us.
Back in October 2014, Williams marched in rallies as part of Ferguson October alongside protestors after police fatally shot Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed African American man.
Other than his starring role on Grey’s and social justice work, Williams and his wife, Aryn Drake-Lee Williams, have co-founded both a production company, farWord Inc., and Ebroji, a GIF keyboard app.
On top of that, Williams is a former teacher; after graduating from Temple University, he taught American, African and African-American History in low income Philadelphia public charter schools. “I loved being a teacher,” he told The Guardian last year. “It’s the best thing I have ever done. My favorite job ever. I miss it every day.”
And if he were to ever be killed off of Shonda Rhimes’ show (like so many have before him), he’s said in interviews (such as with The Guardian) that he’d like to become a civil rights attorney. His passion for social activism started as a child from his family. “My parents were both activists and I really connected to the social justice movement. Growing up in Chicago, that was a big part of the community that we were in and the people that were in our house. I also lived below the poverty line for my entire childhood.”
In this sense, it makes his dedication to his parents in his BET Awards speech all the more sentimental:
I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, and that they make sure I learn what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also thank my amazing wife for changing my life.