What the "Empire" Stars Just Said About "Black Lives Matter" at the VMAs

August 31st 2015

Ted Simmons

During MTV's Video Music Award telecast, which aired Sunday night, "Empire" stars Jussie Smollett and Serayah McNeill took a moment to speak to the social inequalities America is facing, while simultaneously awarding the VMA for video with a social message.

"This past year has been one of epic highs and stunning lows," Smollett began.

"We've rejoiced in the victory of gay marriage; we've mourned the victims of senseless violence; and we've fought for equality and justice," McNeill followed.

"We know the hashtags 'Black Lives Matter' and 'love is love' to name a few," Smollett added. "The point is to make sure these topics are not simply hashtags and they continue to be spoken about until they're proven to be 100 percent true. No art form in the world captures moments like this more powerfully than music. Music helps us make sense of the world. A song can elevate a movement."

Smollett was referring to two distinct movements that have held traction in the United States: the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community, which saw a major victory earlier this year when the Supreme Court of the United States extended the right to marriage to same-sex couples, and the Black Lives Matter movement.


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The Black Lives Matter movement (and corresponding hashtag) began following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police, in the summer of 2014. As of August 9, 2015—the anniversary of Brown's death—at least 1,083 Americans had been killed by police, according to Vice. According to the Guardian's project "The Counted," which tracks the number of people killed by police, 777 people have been killed by law enforcement in 2015.

The winner of this particular award went to Detroit rapper Big Sean, who brought up co-collaborators John Legend and Kanye West to accept.

"Part of the song—it's partially dedicated to my grandmom," Sean said. "Mildred Virginia Leonard, she was one of the first female Black captains of World War II, one of the first female cops on the street of Detroit."

The song, "One Man Can Save The World," is featured on Sean's album "Dark Sky Paradise." The song is below: