Jesse Williams on "The Obama Years" documentary, speaking bluntly at BET Awards

Actor and activist Jesse Williams, well-known for his role as Dr. Jackson Avery on “Grey’s Anatomy,” is bringing his voice to a new Smithsonian documentary, “The Obama Years: The Power of Words.” The film focuses on six of former President Obama’s most important speeches delivered before and during his eight years in the White House.

Williams pointed to how the power of Mr. Obama’s words impacted so many people.


Jesse Williams

CBS News

“Anybody to some degree can recite words, right? But there’s a connectivity to being able to really understand who and what you’re talking about and being able to frame it in a way that is relatable, that people can see themselves in the experience and use kind of key words and vocabulary that relax people, disarm people and make them – set a table for them to do it on,” Williams said.

Williams also made headlines last year accepting the BET Humanitarian Award. He spoke bluntly about the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality.

“This award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country – the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do,” he said on stage, adding, “We know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day.”

Reflecting on the moment, Williams said he spoke out because he “didn’t have a choice.”

“It wasn’t something I wrestled with. I tell the truth as far as I know it at the time. … I was there for work I’m doing with a bunch of incredible people around the country. And so it was appropriate to discuss how I came to be on this stage at this moment. And to seize the time, seize the opportunity to just address things directly,” Williams said. “That’s my brand of communication, personally, is to call things like I see them and not allow ourselves to constantly have to be tugged to the right and create these false equivalencies and kind of a false middle on topics where we’re not being honest about it.”

“The Obama Years” airs Thursday night at 10 p.m. ET on the Smithsonian channel, owned by the Smithsonian Institution and Showtime, a division of CBS.