After performing his hit song “All of Me” at Friday night’s NAACP Image Awards, Oscar-winning singer John Legend delivered a stirring, perfect speech urging his fellow artists to stand up and use their voices to fight for racial equality in America.
Accepting the NAACP’s annual President’s Award, Legend addressed the audience of luminaries at the most diverse awards show of the year.
“We know that we stand on the shoulders of giants who risked their lives to bring us closer to true freedom. And of course, we are still fighting for freedom,” he began, moments after songstress Alice Smith delivered a powerful rendition of “Glory,” his Oscar-winning Selma song with Common.
“Today, communities of color are still being crushed by a criminal justice system that over-polices us, over-arrests us, over-incarcerates us, and disproportionately takes the lives of our young people because of the simple fact that our skin conjures the image of threat and violence.”
As the Image Awards’ savvy production team cut to Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Will Smith applauding from the audience, Legend appealed to his fellow artists, including 2016 Image Award winners Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Tracee Ellis Ross, Don Cheadle, Steve Harvey, Anthony Anderson, and Ryan Coogler.
“I am hopeful that our generation will demand and achieve radical change in our lifetime,” he said. “And as artists—all these wonderful artists in this room—we have always played a role in these movements. Our predecessors marched, they wrote songs, they met with political leaders, they provided financial support.”
“Now, some will call you divisive for speaking out for a disenfranchised people. Some will call you a radical for calling for justice for all. Some will take offense when we have to assert that our lives should indeed matter, just as much as anyone else’s.”
“Some will call you the real racist for daring to call out racial inequality. But they know better. And we certainly know better.”
Earlier in the evening, Anderson—who won the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series award for his work on black-ish—took a jab at Stacey Dash over her suggestion that entities like BET, Black History Month, and, yes, the Image Awards themselves, should be done away with in the name of true equality.
“Doesn’t she know that the Fox network is using her? She’s just an Ann Coulter dipped in butterscotch,” said Anderson. “That’s all she is. Baby, don’t let them use you! Come back to the black people.”
Anderson also used his monologue to make the briefest of mentions of the #OscarsSoWhite uproar, calling out Smith and Pinkett-Smith in the audience: “They better be here after all this ish they started!”
Watch Legend’s full speech: