Video: Jesse Williams' inspirational BET Awards speech

Actor Jesse Williams accepts the Humanitarian Award during the 2016 BET Awards in Los Angeles (Reuters)
Actor Jesse Williams accepts the Humanitarian Award during the 2016 BET Awards in Los Angeles (Reuters)

Grey's Anatomy star Jesse Williams stole the show at the BET Awards on Sunday night (local time), with a stirring and confrontational speech about activism and race in the United States.

The 34-year-old was honoured with BET's Humanitarian Award for his involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement. Actor and producer Samuel L Jackson said he hadn't heard a speech like Williams' since the 1960s.

In October 2014, Williams joined protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer. He also produced and acted in Stay Woke, a documentary about the activist movement. Earlier this year, he met with US President Barack Obama to discuss his work.

At the awards, BET CEO Debrea Lee honoured Williams "for his continued efforts and steadfast commitment to furthering social change".

Williams thanked his wife and parents "for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career".

"They made sure I learned what the schools are afraid to teach us.

"This award is not for me. This is for the real organisers all over the country -- the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realising that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It's basic mathematics -- the more we learn about who we are and how we got here the more we will mobilise.

"This award is also for the black women in particular who have spent their lives nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

"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 every day. So what's going to happen is we're going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.

"I got more, y'all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice's 14th birthday so I don't want to hear any more about how far we've come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television, and then going home to make a sandwich.

"Tell Rekia Boyd how it's so much better to live in 2012 than 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner, Sandra Bland.

"The thing is though, all of us here are getting money. That alone isn't going to stop this. Dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back to put someone's brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies?

"There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There is no job we haven't done, there is no tax they haven't levied against us, and we have paid all of them.

"But freedom is always conditional here. 'You're free!' they keep telling us. 'But she would be alive if she hadn't acted so... free.' Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but the hereafter is a hustle: We want it now.

"Let's get a couple of things straight. The burden of the brutalised is not to comfort the bystander -- that's not our job so let's stop with all that. If you have a critique for our resistance then you'd better have an established record, a critique of our oppression.

"If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

"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! -- ghettoising and demeaning our creations and stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

"Just because we're magic doesn't mean we're not real. Thank you."

Williams received a standing ovation for his speech.