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BET Awards feature a surprise Beyoncé performance, powerful Jesse Williams speech

(Photo: Paras Griffin/BET/Getty Images)

Last night’s BET Awards ceremony kicked off with a rousing, surprise performance by Beyoncé. The Lemonade artist opened her rendition of “Freedom” with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream.” As her dancers marched through the aisles, King’s words rang out: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note … This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Beyoncé continued to stun attendees and viewers, dipping into a wading pool to unleash some choreography that utilized the water around her in the fiery landscape. Later, she was joined by Kendrick Lamar, who’s featured on the album track.


King’s powerful words and Beyoncé’s voice would not be the only ones to ring out in the Microsoft Theater that night, as Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams gave a speech for the new generation of activists when accepting the Humanitarian Award. Williams’ activism includes working with Black Lives Matter, a movement that Beyoncé’s also openly supported. When the actor took the stage, he invoked the memories of Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Dorian Hunt, concluding:

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.

You can read the full speech over at Fusion or watch below.


The show was also marked by a series of performances honoring Prince’s legacy. Sheila E., Jennifer Hudson, and The Roots were among the artists who saluted The Purple One.

[Note: Fusion, like The A.V. Club, is owned by Univision Communications.]


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