5 Reasons Jesse Williams Acceptance Speech Gave Me Life and Why My Sons Needed to See It
Like most of the world, I tuned into the 2016 BET awards on June 26th to see if they were going to make good on all the shade they had thrown regarding Madonna’s supposed to be Prince tribute earlier this year. I sat there waiting for all things Prince while trying to stay off of social media so that the people (my sister) that had already seen the show due to different time zones would not spoil it for me. I did see at one point someone online said that Jesse Williams was getting the Humanitarian Award. When that time came in the program, we sat and listened to him as he dedicated the award to the “ Real organizers all over the country.” What he said next was a simple truth but a powerful line that struck a cord with me and let me know that this brother was getting ready to speak. He segways into discussing the issues that Black America faces by saying
A system built to divide, impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.
One of the best quotes I have ever heard.
Right up there with RFK’s “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
By the time the brother got to “gentrifying our genius”, my hand was in the air in full testimonial yelling AMEN!!! I know that’s right!!! The speech was everything. One of the most constructive and productive uses of air time I have seen on that network in a while ( I’m not a big TV watcher)
I watched it again when I got home and later shared with my boys who are 7 and 8. My oldest is a righteous thinker, deeply affected by what is just and what is not. My youngest, a self directed indigo child. They listened and a dialogue ensued. By the end of our conversation I knew that the speech opened a pocket of knowledge for them and reinforced some of the teachings I work to give them daily in five different ways...
1. He honored his parents.
He opened the speech by thanking his parents who he stated taught him what the schools “were afraid to teach.” and “comprehension over career.” This was a great discussion about understanding that knowledge is plentiful in places outside of the school house and that not all money is good money. That you can pick a career that gets you paid but if it is against your convictions or you simply have none at all, you have done yourself a disservice. It was also a testament to respect. I make it a point to stay on them about respecting the lengths I go to in order to keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths. All in the effort to give them the foundation needed for them to become someone great. So in this moment I was able to say See!
2. He thanked his wife.
After giving respect to his parents, he then thanked his “amazing” wife for “changing his life.” I care deeply about making sure that my sons, who are future husbands and fathers, understand that who they choose as a partner is the greatest investment they will make. When a man puts away his ego and accepts that the right woman has the ability to help him achieve greatness, she should be treated accordingly and cherished. He only said one sentence about her, but it was what he chose to say that basically sums it up. She is amazing to him and she changed his life. Although the boys are still young, marriage is a concept that they are curious about coming from a split household. We talk about it often. Every positive example is appreciated.
3. He called out the injustice in our justice system.
I didn’t have to explain when he came to the part about the police managing not to kill white people everyday. My boys are aware of what is happening regarding that. When Mike Brown was gunned down my oldest sat next to me and watched as we awaited the decision regarding Darren Wilson’s indictment. I explained it to him and my then 7 year old said “I know why he shot him like that Mommy. He wanted to feel more powerful than him.The police officer just wanted to show his power.” Blew my mind. The boys are no strangers to the past and present injustice when it comes to being black. The depth of it is still something they are learning and trying to understand. I have found we have to talk about it in short sips and long swallows at times. Nevertheless, his point was clear.
4. He spoke eloquently and had them asking questions.
I think most will agree that the speech was something like poetry. His vocabulary and intent regarding the subject matter was commanding and inspiring. He was saying what we (Black America) already know to be true. They knew that they were listening to something that was important. One of the best things we can illustrate to our children is the difference in passion over emotion. The emotion black people feel regarding white supremacy can be overwhelming, but we can choose to be super emotional about it or passionate about eradicating it. Passion is focused emotion put to work. I found myself telling them to find their passion and they too could be standing on a stage somewhere one day receiving an award. They asked why everyone had stood up while he spoke and wanted to know what he meant by “ trying us on like costumes.”
5. He owns his blackness regardless of his mixed race.
My boys are black on my side and Filipino/Native on their father’s side. I teach them about their black heritage and identity.They have a big family that reinforces who they are on both sides. People have made statements as if Jesse was in the wrong for addressing “the invention of whiteness” as if he isn’t half white. My response to that is well.. his mother didn’t seem bothered. Black people have also come out to say negative things regarding his racial background, trying to take away from his message. Colorism is real and there are going to be times in life where my kids will be told by some ignorant soul they “aren’t black enough” due to a false construct of what being black means. I too dealt with this type of ignorance growing up because of my own fair skin regardless of the fact that I had two black parents.This was just another reinforcement that no one can strip you of your identity and ability to speak on what you know to be true. Them having ownership over who they are is a priceless sense of self I work everyday to give them. Seeing a black man stand up regardless of his mixed heritage for every single last shade of us is was a powerful message for them and lets them know at a young age we are WE, light, dark, mixed, American or not.
When I was coming up there was always something that my Dad would call me in the room to hear on TV that he thought would beneficial to my understanding of the world. I try to find those teaching points as well with mine. It seems that there has been so many negative things to make examples out of. A whole lot of What’s wrong with this picture? type of stuff. It was refreshing to add this to one of the more positive displays of what being a leader is and not being afraid to use your voice to call out injustice to those who need to hear it most. My boys have been getting the history of our ancestors that did just that. This was just another piece to add to the history being made by those that are continuing to use that voice. There has been ridiculous backlash regarding the speech from the victims of an inadequate education system and blind privilege or simply blatant racists looking to project their nonsense onto the next. This is to be expected.This is also a valuable lesson for my boys that I am sure to point out as well. Opposition and ignorance is always around the corner, but stop to think about why and understand the root of it.
Families can use his words as a vehicle to have fruitful conversations with their children as I did and see the power that we hold when we expose them to truth and how their minds begin to blossom as a result right in front of our eyes.
Thank you Jesse, sincerely.
We are here for it.