The 2017 BET Awards Brought Me Black Joy When I Needed It Most
For me, it never feels easy to be black in America — and sometimes, I need a bit of respite. On June 25, thanks to the 2017 BET Awards, I was able to sit back, relax, and rejoice, even if just for a few hours. The show was an unashamed tribute to black joy, black love, and black talent. Bruno Mars called it the "livest party of the year" during his electrifying performance, and that felt accurate — and for me, it was a party I felt like I needed to see.
On June 16, the Minnesota officer who shot Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop was acquitted on all counts after a jury trial. Two days later, Seattle police shot mom-to-be Charleena Lyles in front of her children. We saw the second anniversary of the Charleston church massacre, and three nooses have been found near D.C. museums in the last four weeks — one of which was the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
News like this pains me, and no less each time it breaks. But as I was watching the BET Awards, I was reminded that there is joy and hope to be found in black excellence and visibility. It's hard to explain why this awards show felt so important, but for me, it was about relief from grieving. I've grieved the loss of black life in America for awhile now, and seeing celebrities at the BET Awards acknowledge black greatness and the power of blackness felt like an escape from that. In fact, taking three hours to revel in the magic of being black felt like an act of resistance — and the people on stage seemed to acknowledge it as well.
Teenage actress Yara Shahidi, who won Best Young Star, thanked BET for “celebrating our culture so beautifully when it isn’t being celebrated everywhere else as it should be.” Shahidi also acknowledged Tamir Rice, the Cleveland teenager shot and killed by police officer Timothy Loehmann — as Shahidi said, Rice would have turned 15 on the same day as the awards.
During her award acceptance speech, Solange Knowles thanked BET for showing black representation on television and inspiring her. "I just want to thank BET for my teenage years for giving me images of queens like Missy Elliott and Lil' Kim and Aaliyah and Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill," Solange said. "And showing me those images and letting me know that the sky's the limit."
Later, Knowles asked for a moment of silence for black lives lost to brutality, and one group of presenters listed off names of some of the lives lost to police violence. Chance the Rapper was given the Humanitarian Award for his work with at-risk children in Chicago, he received a standing ovation. During his acceptance speech, he said something that resonated: "Thank you, black people."
There were lighter moments, too. Performances from Mary J. Blige, Future and Big Sean had me dancing along from my couch as I watched. R&B group New Edition was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award and stole the show during their reunion performance. The incomparable Leslie Jones hosted the program, taking time to poke fun at beloved celebrities like Amber Rose while also making self-deprecating comments about turning 50 soon. She even mocked the trolls who leaked her nude photos last summer. Watching all of these people on stage was a reminder of what it looks like when black people are empowered to excel at their crafts — and I was 100 percent here for it.
The central theme of the awards show was black excellence, and I was here for it. We're living in an era filled with fear and uncertainty, and being reminded of the richness of black culture felt like comfort food. It might seem like a small thing in comparison to the state of the rest of our country, but for me, it was amazing how one melanin-filled night of entertainment reenergized me.