Jesse Williams went viral with an impassioned speech at the BET Awards last week, resulting in some minor controversy and criticism from those calling it "racist." But that wasn't the first time Williams has drawn attention by addressing issues of racial inequality, as the "Grey's Anatomy" star has been participating in activism on behalf of the African-American community for years.
BET Awards Speech While accepting a humanitarian award at the 2016 BET Awards, Williams instantly drew cheers on social media with a speech about race in America that touched on contentious issues like cultural appropriation and police brutality. "We're done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us," he said.
Ferguson Protests Williams spent days in Missouri participating in the 2014 protests in Ferguson after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. In an interview with TheWrap, Williams said he was "astonished" by the way the police responded to the protests. "The cops were really, really nasty, unnecessarily antagonizing people. It really creates a kind of plantation vibe," he said.
Black Lives Matter Williams has been an outspoken member of the Black Lives Matter movement for years. He starred in and produced a 2016 BET documentary titled "Stay Woke: The Black Lives Movement," which featured interviews with several of the movement's prominent players and co-founders.
#JusticeForFlint Along with "Selma" director Ava DuVernay and "Creed" director Ryan Coogler, Williams was one of the stars who chose to boycott the 2016 Oscars -- which saw no acting nominees of color for the second year in a row -- and instead participate in a fundraiser for the residents of Flint, Michigan, who suffered lead poisoning from the local water supply.
"Racist" Halloween Costumes In 2014, Williams took to Twitter to put people on notice for their "racist" Halloween costumes, specifically those dressed up like Trayvon Martin. "We don't reflexively celebrate random or routine white death, make memes of your bleeding corpses, etc. Tell us about this unique obsession," he wrote.
New York Times profile of Shonda Rhimes The New York Times stirred up controversy when a 2014 profile of "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes described her as an "angry black woman." Williams stuck up for his boss during an appearance on Queen Latifah's syndicated talk show, blasting the piece for its racial insensitivity and saying, "'Grey’s Anatomy' is the most incredible example of how it’s perfectly doable to have a diverse cast of people who are representing themselves and are whole human beings."