The actor and activist spoke out about racial issues, social justice, and even cultural appropriation in the applaud-inducing speech, which soon prompted a Twitter debate and even landed Justin Timberlake in the hot seat after he tweeted about it.
“Freedom is somehow always conditional here,” Williams said. “‘You’re free,’ they keep telling us…freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but, you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.”
Even though he is one of the biggest stars on Grey’s Anatomy (he plays Dr. Jackson Avery), Williams tends to stay out of the spotlight and keep his personal life private – except when it comes to social justice.
The moving address was just a small extension of Williams’ activism, as he has long been an active member of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here are five things you need to know about the Chicago native and his fight for equal rights.
1. He serves on the board of directors for a civil rights organization alongside Harry Belafonte.
Williams works alongside veteran civil rights lawyers and activists in The Advancement Project, a “multi-racial civil rights organization” founded in 1999, according to the project’s website.
“Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions baaed on the same high quality analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras,” the website states.
2. He created Ebrojis!
Along with his wife, Aryn Drake-Lee Williams, Williams created the Ebroji app and unveiled the program earlier this year. The couple bills the app as the “first curated GIF keyboard designed specifically to enhance the way we already communicate.” The Ebrojis, available in Apple’s App Store, are GIFs that users can copy and paste in a text message. The GIFs include many images made popular by African-American culture. “Ebroji is like going from black & white to color! It immediately adds movement, tone and next level laughs to everyday messaging!” according to the app’s description.
3. He executive-produced a documentary about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Williams, 34, worked alongside Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Laurens Grant on the BET original documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. The film “chronicles the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement through the first-person accounts of local activists, protesters, scholars, journalists and celebrities,” according to BET. He also appeared in the documentary, which premiered in May on BET.
4. He marched in Ferguson October.
Williams was among thousands who took to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in October 2014 to protest the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American man who was killed by a police officer. He took part in rallies and marches during the period known as Ferguson October, in which marchers sang, chanted, and prayed.
“This is a two way street. Ferguson, MO Oct 11, 2014,” he captioned an Instagram photo of himself hugging an emotional protester.
5. He founded a production company.
Under the company, Williams executive-produces Question Bridge: Black Males, an art project aimed at addressing and redefining African American male identity in America.
According to the project’s website: “Question Bridge is an innovative transmedia project that facilitates a dialogue between a critical mass of black men from diverse and contending backgrounds and creates a platform for them to represent and redefine black male identity in America.”