I don’t do BET often. In fact, it had been close to a decade since I watched the network channel. I felt I grew out of it, put away childish things and settled on networks like OWN and the History Channel. But last night was an exception. The BET Awards was doing a Prince tribute – the right way, so I was in. However something extraordinary happened. Amidst the hip hop, slinky outfits and dashes of purple rain, a few choice words from a relatively new but well respected actor, stirred hearts and stole the show. I witnessed first hand Jesse Williams’ speech at the BET Awards: a definitive call for people of color to act. But there was also a message for parents as well. Here is a dissection of his speech and the message I received:
“…This is for the real organizers all over the country, the activist, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It’s kinda basic mathematics: the more we learn about who we are and how we got here the more we will mobilize…”
As a parent, you are your children’s first teacher. If you’re ignorant about yourself, if you haven’t a clue of your rich, fertile and noble heritage, how can you pass that knowledge and pride on to your children? Ignorance is not bliss. After the civil rights movement, black pride and power slipped into a coma. It allowed assimilation and the illusion of success to reign. The successful ones among us fled to the suburban hills and didn’t reach back to help those left behind. In the meantime, history was forgotten. schools rotted. black businesses closed. Crime festered. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the prison population grew, 700% in less than 40 years. Communities became impoverished, families fractured. A people who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. We’ve been repeating. But now people and parents of color are waking up.
“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…”
In 2009, Newsone reported 72% of black children were raised in single family households. Parents, it’s time for a change. Time for reconciliation. Time for dads to reclaim their children. Time for mutual respect. Time to bring “family” back.
“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..”
With knowledge comes power. In my book, “Raising Hell or Raise Them Well”, it talks about how your children can avoid the school to prison pipeline, what to do when your child is approached by police, and ways to keep them busy and off the streets. Also, your vote makes a difference. The restructuring process is happening, but we also must reconsider our thinking and actions to move forward.
“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.
There have been casualties in the struggle – especially young ones. There will likely be more. But we must stay strong for our families, fulfill our purpose to move forward and teach our children to be active in their purpose. When you know who you are and “whose” you are, you have the confidence to make a difference.
“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?
You love the brands. The brands don’t love you. The brand we should teach your children to value is their own. Their own person, their own uniqueness. That’s worth more than the designer names we go broke to own.
“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 keeping 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.”
We have to believe within ourselves that anything worth having is worth fighting for. When you know that, you teach it to your children. You may be fighting to live in a better neighborhood. Your children may be fighting to get those grades on point. And there’s the bigger picture: Fighting for justice, more jobs, better education in our communities. FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE. But first it starts with your worth. Are YOU worth fighting for? Does your life matter?
“Let’s get a couple of things straight. The burden of the brutalized 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.”
Others will tear you down, ridicule and shame you and your family for speaking up and taking action. They will call you what they are, Racist, for standing up for your right to exist equally. Don’t be afraid to hold your ground. You are not given the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. The media, politicians, law enforcement, co-workers, racist trolls will challenge that. You owe them nothing.
“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! — ghettoizing 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.
Have you noticed? The general market devours black culture like it’s meat, and discards black people like they’re bone. Again, it all boils down to value and discernment. Do you value who you are, what you have, what you can offer. Don’t take your uniqueness for granted. Be proud of who you are and where you came from. Be discerning on who you share your value with. Teach your children to do the same
“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”
What did you think of Jesse’s speech and the parenting message? Click here to view entire speech
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