Perry shared a moving story about a family quilt, and what it represents to him and his work.

By Nick Romano
September 20, 2020 at 10:46 PM EDT
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Entertainment mogul Tyler Perry was presented with the annual Governors Award during the virtual 2020 Emmys ceremony on Sunday.

Awarded by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Governors Award honors an individual, company, organization, or project for outstanding achievement in the arts and sciences or management of television. Perry and The Perry Foundation were selected as this year's recipients. Past honorees included Star Trek, American Idol, Marian Dougherty, and A+E Networks.

Perry shared a story about receiving a quilt from his grandmother when he was 19 years old and left home. "This quilt was something that I didn't really care for," he said. "It had all these different colors and different patches in it and I was quite embarrassed by it. I had no value in it at all."

It wasn't until "many years later" that he saw a similar quilt in the window of a "fancy antique store." An attendant told him, "It was made by an African-American woman who was a former slave and each patch in the quilt she had put in represented a part of her life."

"As I was hearing this story, I became so embarrassed," he added. "Here I was a person who prized myself on celebrating our heritage, our culture, and I didn't even recognize the value in my grandmother's quilt. I dismissed her work and her story because it didn't look like what I thought it should... We are all sewing our own quilts with our thoughts and our behaviors and our experiences and our memories."

Perry remembers one memory from when he was about 10 years old of his father standing by the door, frustrated. His mother said he was "waiting for the man to come and pay him and he never did" after working all week. "She was so frustrated she said, 'Don't you ever stand by a door waiting for white folks to do nothing for you.'"

"My mother wasn't a racist," he said. "But in her quilt, she couldn't imagine a world where her son was waiting by the door for someone. In her quilt, she couldn't imagine me actually building my own door and holding that door open for thousands of people. In my mother's quilt, she couldn't imagine me owning land that was once a Confederate Army base where Confederate soldiers planned about how to keep Blacks enslaved. And now Black people, white people, gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, ex-cons, Latin, Asian, all of us working, coming together to add patches to a quilt that is as diverse as it can be. Diversity at its best."

Perry was chosen for "his unprecedented achievements in television and his commitment to offering opportunities to marginalized communities through personal and The Perry Foundation programs of inclusion, engagement, employment and other philanthropic initiatives," per a previous statement from the board.

"Tyler Perry has changed the face of television and inspired a new generation of content creators. He pioneered a new brand of storytelling that engages people of color both in front of and behind the camera, and his shows have resonated with a global audience," Governors Award selection committee Chair Eva Basler said in a statement.

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