Jesse Williams broke the internet when he delivered his blunt, yet poetic, Humanitarian Award acceptance speech at the BET Awards on Sunday.
As the crowd rose to their feet offering a standing ovation and all the twitter fingers around the globe began typing away, I couldn't help but to sit back on my couch and reflect on the words so eloquently spoken by this modern Civil Rights soldier.
As a black man watching Williams' speech, the emotion that I encountered first was that of shamefulness. I began to ask myself: Could I ever be that selfless? When he spoke of materialism was he talking about me? Am I doing enough to better my people or am I sacrificing the livelihood of those within my community in exchange for my own comfortability?
Jesse's speech was so impressive to me because his words were sharp enough to make me re-evaluate myself yet sweet enough to encourage me to be and do better. I believe that every black man watching Jesse Williams' speech can take a thing, or three, away from his thought provoking words. Here are a few that caught my attention:
#1: We Must Do Better for our Black Women
One part of Jesse's speech that managed to really resonate with me was when he spoke about what we as black men must do for our black women. Jesse said,
"now, this is also 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."
WOAH. One minute into his speech and he already hits us with a right hook of reality and an upper cut of truth. This quote reminded me of one of the lowest points in my life when I had the audacity to sit across from my mother at brunch and tell her that I would never date a black women. The disappointment in her face said enough for me to uproot the self-hate of my own blackness and to re-instill in my heart the love for the beautiful, talented and indestructible women who had raised me. We must continue to remind ourselves that behind each and every strong black man stands an even stronger black women.
#2: We Must Exhibit Leadership
Jesse began the police brutality portion of his speech by saying this,
"now, what we've been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. 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."
On this very sensitive topic, Jesse did not shy away from controversy by posing a question to his audience. He did not offer a suggestion, nor did he ask for compromise. He stood firm and his words fell from his mouth without a waiver of insecurity. Jesse modeled leadership for us all by saying what will be done versus what should or could be done. His bold display of steadfastness is a characteristic that could benefit us all.
#3: We Must Remain Real
Jesse Williams ended his jaw dropping speech with what is arguably everyone's favorite quote. He said,
"the thing is though... the thing is that just because we're magic doesn't mean we're not real."
The black male identity is rooted and grounded in the existence of one's masculinity. We are told that in order to be a "real man" we must be removed of emotion. We are commanded to not cry and we are ordered to suck it up. The consequence though, of being a "real man" in today's society is that we, black men, actually lose the very thing that makes us real and when you lose that you become disposable because the human experience, which is entrenched in realness and emotion, is the one thing that transcends all lines, borders and boxes that we create for ourselves.
Once we stop guarding ourselves and once we begin to understand who we are, only then will we be able to change the narrative of what it means to be a black man in America and only then will we be able to accept Jesse's challenge to "do better."