Justin Timberlake won the first-ever Decade Award at Sunday night’s Teen Choice Awards, and he accepted the accolade with a heartfelt speech.
After receiving the award from his friend and former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, JT used his moment to empower the crowd, ensuring everyone “that you and your choices matter.”
The former *NYSYNC-er explained that he was fortunate to grow up with two loving parents in Tennessee, “who taught me some big lessons.”
“They taught me to respect them. They taught me to respect myself and to respect all people on the basis of their character — not where they live, not what they did for a living or the color of their skin,” he said. “My parents did their best to fill my young mind not with prejudice or hate but with compassion and love.”
He continued, “I think it’s part of the reason why, to this day, I try to live my life working closely with, making music with, and spending so much of my time with an amazing group of people: male, female, straight, gay, every walk of life ... People who help each other find common ground.”
“I was drawn to all these people not because they look like me, but because they think and feel like me,” Timberlake said. “The truth is we are all different, but that does not mean we all don’t want the same thing.”
The singer also quoted boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died earlier this year.
“The champ said this,” Timberlake continued, “’Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.’”
The star’s speech comes after he received backlash for his response to Jesse Williams’ BET Awards acceptance speech. Timberlake tweeted that he was inspired by the speech, but users were quick to note that the singer is part of the “white America” Williams was talking about. In other words, JT has profited by creating R&B music, a genre with strong African-American origins, yet he’s never shown support publicly for movements like #BlackLikesMatter.
When one Twitter user questioned Timberlake, the “SexyBack” singer provided a tone-deaf response.
“Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation,” he wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted. Following that response, he issued an apology on the social media platform.
“I feel misunderstood. I responded to a specific tweet that wasn’t meant to be a general response. I shouldn’t have responded anyway ...,” he wrote.
Despite all the past controversy, many people seemed to agree that Timberlake got it right at the Teen Choice Awards.