BET Awards Ceremony Honoring Waters Draws Protesters

Posted January 14, 2008 at 6:21pm

Black Entertainment Television on Saturday night welcomed Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) to the red carpet at its inaugural BET Honors awards ceremony at the Warner Theatre, amid protests about its programming. Waters used part of her acceptance speech to address the protesters from the Enough Is Enough Campaign, who claimed that BET spreads a negative image of black culture.

BET Honors covers “everything from business to politics to media,” said Debra Lee, chairwoman and CEO, and is designed as a supplement to the traditional BET Awards, which focus exclusively on entertainment. Lee said Waters received the award because of her 30-year history in state and national government.

“She’s made it her mission to tackle the toughest social issues and promote justice and peace worldwide,” Lee said.

But Enough Is Enough claimed that BET Honors was a red herring to distract the public from the network’s offensive musical content. About 100 protesters marched in front of the Warner Theatre, holding dozens of signs with messages such as “I am not a thug” and “I am not a gangster.” Chants of “BET does not reflect me, so BET, do better, be better,” and “lift us up, don’t tear us down” could be heard from blocks away.

Enough Is Enough charged BET with using respected African-Americans such as Waters to commercialize and market “negative messages and derogatory images of black men and women.”

“African-Americans don’t want this kind of content,” said the Rev. Delman Lamont Coates, leader of the campaign. “We want the world to know that young black men are doctors, teachers, lawyers — they’re not drinking 40s and having babies all over the place.”

“BET Networks serves the broad spectrum of interests and voices in the Black community, and we encourage our audiences to share their concerns and opinions about any of our networks,” BET said in a statement. “But the narrow viewpoint of a single individual or organization should not and will not dictate what content is appropriate to air on our networks.”

Waters addressed the protesters directly after receiving the award from actress Kerry Washington.

“I know that there are those who do not always support BET’s programming,” Waters said in her speech. “I will also always fight for First Amendment rights.”

But the Congresswoman said BET provides content that is a valuable medium for reaching out to young people, and that the network allows young black men and women unique opportunities in writing, acting, directing and producing.

“I say to BET: Keep providing the platform,” Waters said.

The show’s program said that the Congresswoman is a “force of nature — and the face of what’s good and right in government.”

“She has used her considerable clout to shape public policy that tackles poverty, strengthens economic development in communities of color, and supports women and children,” the program said.

The Enough Is Enough Campaign emphasized that it was not attacking the award recipients.

“We believe it is unfortunate that BET is using the good names of these respected African-Americans to mask BET’s negative corporate practices,” the campaign stated in a pamphlet.

Waters was recognized in part for her work on the Minority AIDS Initiative in 1998, the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus in 2005, and her re-election in 2006 with 80 percent of the votes in her district. Both her speech and her introduction mentioned her position against the Iraq War.

Along with Waters, BET honored Tyra Banks for media accomplishments, ACT-1 founder and CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd for entrepreneurship, Alicia Keys for entertainment, Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons for his corporate citizen accomplishments, and Dr. Cornel West for his scholarly work.

Cedric the Entertainer emceed the event, hosting top-tier performers including soul artist Gladys Knight and R&B singer John Legend. Stevie Wonder did two takes of “As,” because of technical difficulties.