Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams says his powerful speech at Sunday’s 2016 BET Awards was about letting people know they aren’t alone.
“Words are only as good as the response to those words,” he tells PEOPLE. “But I’d like to think that I give people a sense that they are not alone.”
Williams delivered a stirring speech that took on racial issues, social justice and cultural appropriation — with his words earning him thunderous applause.
Williams, 34, tells PEOPLE that he believes addressing disparities in the education system is crucial to progress.
“Otherwise we are treating the symptoms and not the sickness,” says Williams, who adds that schools generally do not properly teach “about African people and the contributions of brown people in the history of the world and this country.”
“If we keep poisoning our children to believe that we are nothing and that white people are everything, thats when it finds itself reflected in the way we treat each other,” continues Williams. “Its not that complicated. The truth we are teaching is that every contribution in the history of the planet came from blonde people. It’s not true and its destructive and people are getting killed longterm as a result. People don’t believe that we deserve it.”
Williams says those hoping to help in the battle for equality should take advantage of the resources made available by the information age.
“We now have access to more information to view as a parent,” says Williams. “I grew up in a really horrible school system, but my parents did not let that define how we function. They gave me more work at home from them than I ever got from school. To learn about the history of myself and my people and that armors me.”
He says he plans to launch a reading list and share it online for others.
“Whether you are reading about Frederick Douglas or you are reading about all the black inventors in the country that invented so many things that we touch and feel every day, or you can get really heavy with the history of African civilization, there is a lot in between,” says Williams.
The actor was honored at Sunday’s awards with the Humanitarian Award for his efforts to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement.