The BET Awards: A Star-Studded and Socially Conscious Celebration

As host of this year’s BET Awards, comedian Leslie Jones had a vision for what she wanted the night to be.

Leslie Jones at the BET Awards in Los Angeles, June 25, 2017

“BET was the first network and place where I was on TV,” said Jones in a press release. “I am looking to turn this whole experience into a joyful homecoming.”

This year’s ceremony, which took place at Staples Center in Los Angeles, brought recording artists, athletes and actors together for an unabashedly jubilant reunion. Among the top talent in black entertainment present this year were Bruno Mars, Solange Knowles, Chance The Rapper and all six members of New Edition.

It was both a raucous party and tender family reunion, as you can see from these highlights:

Beyoncé shouts out her family, BET and “BeyHive” after winning five awards

Last year, Beyoncé stunned fans with a riveting, elemental BET Awards performance, dancing through fog, fire and water alongside Kendrick Lamar. The superstar did things a bit differently this year, opting to stay home with her newborn twins and enjoy the BET Awards from afar. She nonetheless still won a whopping five BET Awards—more than any other performer.

Her protégés, Atlanta sister-duo Chloe x  Halle (Chloe and Halle Bailey) accepted the Viewer’s Choice Award on her behalf, and delivered her acceptance speech.

“Thank you BET for this award and your tremendous support of Lemonade,” wrote Beyonce. “This has been a journey of love, of celebrating our culture, honoring the past, and approaching the present and future with hope and resolve.”

Watch the full speech:

Chance the Rapper became the youngest winner of BET’s Humanitarian Award

Twenty-four-year-old recording artist Chance the Rapper released his first mixtape as a senior in high school, was featured in Complex magazine’s watch-list for Chicago rappers at age 19, and won critical acclaim for his second mixtape, Acid Rain, at 20. This year, Chance turned 24 and won three Grammy awards for his album Coloring Book, becoming the first artist to win a Grammy with a streaming-only album.

As a rapper and musical maverick, Chance has been ahead of the entertainment curve for most of his life. Lesser known is his deep commitment to violence prevention and education in Chicago. The BET Awards acknowledged these other trailblazing efforts, awarding him this year’s BET Humanitarian Award for his ongoing activism.

Chance has used his social media reach to promote an end to gun violence with his #SaveChicago campaign. When he met with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to discuss improving the city’s public schools, he found the meeting “disappointing” and donated $1 million of his own money to the cause.

After accepting his award from BET President and CEO Debra Lee, Chance expanded his commitment to activism.

“I want to be more involved than just my community of Chicago,” said Chance. “I want to travel overseas and help out people all over the world.”

Watch a clip from his speech:

Chance earned two additional BET Awards: Best New Artist and Best Collaboration.

Activism and social justice prevalent throughout the night

The Humanitarian Award isn’t all BET has to offer when it comes to promoting awareness of social justice during their tentpole award show. Centric Award winner Solange Knowles, along with Detroit actors Laz Alonso, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, and Jason Mitchell, solemnly recited the names of some members of the black community who have lost their lives to police brutality. Knowles then asked the audience to join in a moment of silence.

Click the photo to watch Knowles’s speech:

During her acceptance speech for the Young Star Award, Black-ish actress Yara Shahidi won the Young Star Award, and used her acceptance speech to remind the audience of a young life that had been cut short.

Tamir Rice died in 2015 during a fatal encounter with Cleveland police and would have turned 15 years old on June 26, 2017—the day of the BET Awards.

“Today is Tamir Rice’s birthday, and so amidst this celebration, I’d love to honor his life,” said Shahidi.

She then thanked BET “for celebrating our culture so beautifully when it isn’t celebrated everywhere else as it should be.”

Click the photo to watch Shahidi’s speech:

New Edition’s caps off nostalgic comeback with a Lifetime Achievement Award

Earlier this year, BET chronicled the dramatic rise of New Edition with The New Edition Story, a candid biopic miniseries that garnered critical acclaim and record-breaking viewership by telling the story of the iconic boy band-turned-R&B superstars. New Edition spent three decades in the industry spotlight, years both rife with conflict (Bobby Brown’s departure, multiple breakups), and saturated with accomplishments and accolades (multiple BET Soul Train Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame).

A New York Times review of BET’s series revered the network’s “celebration of a  group that was preternaturally talented and rivetingly tortured.”

This celebration continued at the BET Awards, where the seminal group received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

The group underscored their vocal prowess with a reunion performance—a rare occasion when all six members appeared onstage for the first time in years, matching in sharp white suits. Viewers got a taste of what the group had achieved in a lifetime after watching a medley of their greatest hits, including Mr. Telephone Man,  Can You Stand the Rain,” and If It Isn’t Love. After over 30 years of professional highs and lows, their musical harmonies were pristine.

Click the photo to watch the performance:

As a meta tribute to the band, BET coordinated the stars of the New Edition Story to perform their own renditions of the group’s famous numbers, like Candy Girl and Bobby Brown’s My Prerogative.

Watch a clip of their performance:

Simulcast on six Viacom networks, including  MTV, VH1, Spike, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, the BET Awards scored 3.8 million viewers the night it aired and was the highest-rated cable TV show that week. With 10.5 million interactions on Facebook and Twitter combined, the BET Awards was also the top social program of that week.

And the BET Awards were once again the No. 1 cable awards show for the 2017 broadcast season, claiming this honor for the third consecutive year.

Visit BET.com to re-watch the show and find more highlights. Here’s the full list of winners:

Humanitarian Award-Chance the Rapper

Lifetime Achievement Award-New Edition

Best Female R&B/Pop Artist-Beyoncé

Best Male R&B/Pop Artist-Bruno Mars

Viewers’ Choice Award-Beyonce, “Sorry”

Best Group-Migos

Best Collaboration- Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert – “Bad and Boujee”

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