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BET Awards 2016

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For several years now I have reserved the BET Awards for a rainy day. I would record and watch it when I had nothing better to do. However, after watching the disrespectful tribute to the musical legacy of Prince presented by Billboard, I was determined not to miss the show. BET promised his fans that they would give us a tribute worthy of a prince and they did not disappoint.

I was not alone in my pursuit for musical memorial closure. As the preshow came to a close, social media buzzed with comments about how long it had been since viewers had abandoned the BET Awards. Prince seemed to be uniting us from the grave. Too many years buffoonery on display had tarnished the luster that once elevated BET above many other networks; particularly in the area of musical entertainment. We tuned in to be entertained but turned off our sets enlightened thru music.

Beyonce fan or not, the power and political charge of her performance of Freedom’ with Kendrick Lamar was undeniable. From Martin Luther King Jr.’s excerpt to the dynamic revolutionary lyrical presentation of Lamar, mixed in with the passion of Beyonce and her dancers’ electrifying water dance routine, the stage was set for unapologetically Black entertainment to take place. Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson ushered us through a host of accolades for entertainers and activists of color with the proper balance of joviality and reverence. The ride ended with a spectacular exhibition of musicianship provided by performers whom loved and were loved by Prince Nelson Rogers himself, with Sheila E. directing the band.

From Bilal’s rendition of The Beautiful Ones to Jennifer Hudson’s presentation of Purple Rain, I sang along in my living room feeling the spirit of Prince. This musical genius’s prolific creative mind produced enough music for four tributes to be spread throughout the show. I can still think of at least two box sets worth of songs that no one sang.

But the real MVP of guests and honorees on Sunday night was Jesse Williams. The Grey’s Anatomy actor was awarded the Humanitarian Award for activism. In October 2014, he joined the efforts in Ferguson, Mo. protesting the shooting of Michael Brown.

He was also an actor and executive producer of Stay Woke, a documentary about the movement which premiered in May.

He has used his artistic platform to spread the Black Lives Matter message and was granted a meeting with President Obama earlier this year to discuss his humanitarian work.

Here are a few excerpts from his acceptance speech:

“This award is not for me,” he continued. “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.”

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and a-buses 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.”

Twitter was immediately set ablaze following Williams’ speech. In four minutes he chin-checked America, inspired a new generation of millennials and reinvigorated the spirits of elders, who have probably been wondering where the ghost of civil rights past had been hiding.

“Jesse is the closest thing I’ve heard to a 1960s activist…” Samuel L. Jackson found himself at a loss for words having to give his acceptance speech after Williams. He was awarded a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement award.

It may have been the direct cries from numerous presenters to get out and out vote Trump, or perhaps it is this year’s daily reminders through reckless loss of life showing us just how far we haven’t come in America.

Maybe it’s the fact that we still need Black Lives Matters movements or the way too many politicians have shamelessly put their bigoted ideologies on parade for all to see that drew us back home to BET.

It might have been as simple the desire to see a tribute befitting one of our most herald musicians of all time.  Whatever the catalyst may have been, it called us all back to Black Entertainment Television.

Prince drew us home for a family homegoing service. At the repast, Uncle Jesse Williams set at the head of the table as the patriarch, and laid down the law. It is my prayer that reality will push us the rest of the way to genuine freedom.

“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” – Jesse Williams


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