The BET Awards Look Different This Year & Here's Why

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The BET Awards are about more than hip-hop music and culture. They are a celebration of Black excellence that runs the gamut from music, film, and television to activism. The network — which was founded by a Black couple to celebrate Black culture; it’s the definition of "for us by us" — carves out time each year to put some respect on the names of the people giving back and striving to be the change that they want to see in the world. Each year, the award show typically gives out a Humanitarian Award that honours the philanthropic contributions of a celebrity who goes beyond their duty as an entertainer to do something that really matters. Past honourees have included Chance the Rapper, Alicia Keys, Jesse Williams, and Dwayne Wade, just to name a few. But this year, BET has flipped the script with its humanitarian honour, proving that they really are for the culture.
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Instead of singling out one specific influencer to give the award to, this year the BET Awards will honour six people. None of them are celebrities, but they have definitely left their mark on our culture over the past year. Instead of ‘recipient of the Humanitarian award,’ these five people are being heralded as Humanitarian Heroes for their acts of bravery, resilience, and resistance. The 2018 heroes are James Shawn Jr., Anthony Borges, Mamoudou Gassama, Naomi Wadler (who is also, disappointingly, the only female honouree in the group), Justin Blackman, and Shaun King.
Click through our slideshow to read about each of these heroes and understand why they are so deserving of this award. Hopefully, their stories will inspire all of us to be better.
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James Shawn Jr.
In April, Travis Reinkin walked into an Antioch, TN, Waffle House restaurant with an assault-style rifle and opened fire. He killed four people and wounded four others. However, had it not been for Shawn seizing an opportunity to tackle and wrestle the weapon way from Reinkin, things could have been even worse.
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Anthony Borges
Fifteen-year-old Borges was shot five times during the February massacre at a Parkland, Florida school. He had barricaded a classroom door and was using his body as a shield to protect about 20 other students, who were able to escape the incident unharmed.
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Photo: THIBAULT CAMUS/POOL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock.
Mamoudou Gassama
No, Gassama was not bitten by a radioactive spider. But it could be easy to make the Spider-Man comparison if you saw him scale the side of a building to save a small child who was dangling from a balcony in Paris. The Malian immigrant was hailed by the Paris mayor as a hero and tales of his heroism have made it all the way across the pond.
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Photo: Photo: MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock.
Naomi Wadler
Wadler led a group of her peers in a walkout on March 14, in unison with thousands of other young people across the country who took a stand against gun violence. But that was not the end of the road for Adler’s activism. At the march for Our Lives Rally that took place less than two weeks later in D.C., Adler gave an electrifying speech when she said “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper,” demanding that Black girls disproportionately impacted by gun violence also be heard and acknowledged.
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Photo: Scott Roth/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
Justin Blackman
At his high school in North Carolina, Blackman found himself standing outside alone when he decided to participate in the national walkout for gun violence. He expected only a few people to see the video where he described his surroundings and explained that he would be honouring the 17-minute period by himself. A few hundred thousand saw it after it went viral.
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Photo: Zach Hilty/BFA/REX/Shutterstock.
Shaun King
King is a columnist for The Intercept and the Writer-In-Residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project which helps “to create a fair and accountable justice system through legal action, public discourse, and educational initiatives.” He wrote an explosive expose on the corruption of the NYPD’s 42nd precinct and is consistently on the front lines as a journalist and activist to confront racism at the interpersonal and systemic level.
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