The 2016 BET Awards Reminded the World to Stay Woke

On June 26, the stage of the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles flooded with water as Beyoncé belted out the vocals to Freedom. Kendrick Lamar joined the singer mid-way through the performance, emerging from a cloud of red fog. The duo stomped and splashed as fiery smoke billowed into the rafters.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 26: Recording artists Beyonce (L) and Kendrick Lamar perform onstage during the 2016 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET)

Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar perform at the BET Awards. Photo courtesy of Getty.

Beyoncé and Lamar’s battle cry against oppression foreshadowed an electrifying night of activism and empowerment at the 2016 BET Awards.

This year’s ceremony was simulcast across 12 Viacom networks, and attracted over 7 million viewers—despite competing with the season finale of Game of Thrones. It stands as the top cable awards show this season for the 18-49 age demographic.

The world is still fixated on the BET Awards. Here’s why.

Jesse Williams demands justice for the black community in his passionate acceptance speech.

Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams accepts the Humanitarian Award onstage during the 2016 BET Awards. Photo courtesy of Getty.

Civil rights activist and Grey’s Anatomy star, Jesse Williams, stepped up to the stage to accept BET’s Humanitarian Award. In less than five minutes, Williams distilled a multitude of complex issues impacting the black community, including systemic racism, cultural appropriation, and police brutality.

His eloquent rhetoric addressed what many Americans have been stumbling over for years—the fact that we do not live in a post-racial society. He confronted the nebulous concept of freedom for black Americans, citing the murders of Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland.

“‘You’re free,’” they keep telling us,” said Williams. “But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free. Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter…We want it now.”

Watch the full speech below:


BET promised an epic Prince celebration. The network did not disappoint.

Prince’s untimely death on April 21 left his devoted fans in a state of profound grief. Back in May, BET promised viewers a prodigious celebration paying homage to the icon at the BET Awards. The network delivered their highly anticipated accolade; memorializing Prince with a distinctive, glorious set of covers woven throughout the show. Performers embraced Prince’s fluidity as an artist by showcasing different elements of his style, as well as their own.

Prince Tributes

Stevie Wonder, Tori Kelly, and Janelle Monáe paid their respects to Prince with a series of stunning medleys. Photos courtesy of BET Facebook.

The Roots and Erykah Badu performed the groovy hit, The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, followed by Bilal’s version of Prince’s falsetto swagger with The Beautiful Ones.

Later on in the night, Stevie Wonder and Tori Kelly sang Take Me With U, followed by Jennifer Hudson’s emotive homage to Purple Rain.

Janelle Monáe energized the crowd with a rendition of Prince’s famous singles, including Delirious, Kiss, Pop Life, and I Would Die for You.

Prince’s longtime collaborator, friend, and mentee, Sheila E., closed the show with an unforgettable performance. Her ten-minute medley of hits like Erotic City and A Love Bizarre culminated with the virtuoso in tears, clutching one of Prince’s guitars.

Watch the full list of highlights on

Missed the show? BET is airing reruns on Monday, July 27 at 6 p.m. and Thursday, June 30 at 8 p.m.

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