'I Am My Ancestors' Dream': Read Jessica Williams' Moving Speech from the Chelsea Handler-Led Women's March at Sundance
Comedian Jessica Williams gave a moving speech at the women’s march in Park City, Utah on Saturday — as celebrities broke from the annual 10-day Sundance Film Festival, which began there on Thursday, to stand in solidarity with the millions of people across the globe protesting the presidency of Donald Trump.
Organized independently from Sundance, the march brought thousands of people into the city of less than 10,000 residents.
“I live in Utah and it’s just exciting,” Urem resident Brianne Borup. 27, told PEOPLE, through tears. “As a woman, this election has been a scary feeling, especially when you live in a state that voted for Trump. It can feel really isolating and scary — like you’re not safe.”
“I mean look around, we’re safe here,” she continued. “It’s just really moving to see so many people here. This is a tiny town. This is a Republican state and it’s nice to not see hate. Yesterday was hard and scary and this feels … safe again.”
Oscar Ortiz agreed. The 27-year-old told PEOPLE he wanted to attend the march to support his two female bosses. He was also grateful that members of the Hollywood community took time from one of the most important weeks in their industry to participate in the march.
“I think it’s so amazing that a lot of these people put aside their main reason for being here at Sundance for something that is so much more important to take part in,” he said. “It’s so great that so many famous names are here to help raise awareness. This is how change happens.”
The front of the march was led by celebrities like Chelsea Handler, Mary McCormack and Charlize Theron — while stars like John Legend, Benjamin Bratt, Kristen Stewart and Julia Ormond walked along in the middle of the crowd.
The morning began with a series of speeches from Maria Bello, Connie Britton, and Aisha Tyler. But it was Williams who brought the entire crowd to tears. Fighting tears back herself, the 27-year old comedian and Daily Show vet gave a moving speech about her childhood and one lesson she learned from her mother that sticks with her.
Read Williams speech in its entirety below:
“My ancestors were slaves. Williams is my last name but it is not real name, it is my slave name. I am my ancestor’s dream. They fought for me to be able to stand up here in the cold ass snow in front of a bunch of white people wearing UGGs.
I’m not quite sure what to say today because I can’t speak to every single person’s experience. I can only speak to mine.
When I was a kid, for some reason in middle school, I stopped doing my homework. My mom went to my parent teacher conference and they said, ‘We don’t know why Jessica Williams isn’t doing her homework.’ And my mom was like, ‘What the hell? Are you kidding me?’
My mom was that kind of minority mom-mad where she’s not really saying anything, she’s just mad looking. My dad happened to be out of town that day so we walked into this house — I grew up in the suburbs, my mom grew up in the projects — we walk in this big beautiful house, she and I, and she said, ‘You wanna have a seat?’ I said, ‘Okay.’ She said ‘You wanna talk to me about these grades?’ I was like, ‘Um. Nah.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you tell me why you’re not doing your homework?’ and I was like ‘Um… because I just wanted to play The Sims and read Harry Potter all day?’
She was like, ‘Do you want to explain all the Cs to me?’ Because I got a bunch of Cs and I was like, ‘Alright — how do I get in not that much trouble?’ So I thought about it and I was like, ‘Mom, when you really think about it, me getting a bunch of Cs is not that bad?’
I’d never seen my mom that angry in my life. I saw fire flash in her eyes. I said, ‘really, when you think about it, Cs are average. And really is it that bad to be average?’ “
My mom took a second and then she said, ‘Average?! I’ll show you f—— average. Come upstairs.’
So we went upstairs. I had my own room. She pointed to my plastic blue iMac computer and she said, ‘You tell me, would an average black kid have that?’ I was like, ‘No.’ She pointed to my phone. ‘You tell me, would an average black kid have that? Would your cousins have that?’ ‘No.’ She pointed to my Harry Potter books. ‘Would an average black kid have that?’ I was like, ‘Nah.’ She pointed to my TV and she said, ‘Would an average black kid have that?’ ‘No!’
She said, ‘You listen to me because this is the only time we’re going to have this conversation. You come from me and because you look like me — because you think like me and you talk like me and you sound like me and you have my skin — you are never allowed to be average. There are people out there who do not look like you that will get more than you have for doing average work. There are people who are the opposite of you that will actively fight to make sure you don’t have s—. So you listen to me – You never, ever walk up in my house again talking about it’s okay to be average.’ “
I was like, ‘So am I grounded… or?’ She was like, ‘Oh, you grounded. You bet you’re grounded. Hold on let me get this right here.’ She grabbed my phone and said, ‘Let me take this phone and see if you can enjoy being average.”
Now she was wil’n. Like none of this s— made sense. Then she tried to grab the TV – tried. She was like, ‘That’s okay, that’s okay. I’ll be right back.’ So then she went to the closet and got a bunch of sheets. She threw them over the TV and said, ‘Boom — try and be average now.’ She threw another sheet – threw it over my damn blue, plastic iMac computer because she couldn’t lift it. ‘Try to be average now.’ She said, ‘That’s the last time I want to have this conversation’ and then she walked out of the room and just left me there. And I’m standing in my room with a bunch a sheets like the house that was in foreclosure in Jumanji after Alan Parrish reemerges.
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I’ve loved all the speakers today and you’ve all said inspiring things. I don’t know really what to add, but I just want to say that if you are a minority today, we can all take away something from that ass whoopin’ that I got from my mom because we have to fight. We can not slack because right now we have a president who is anti-muslim, anti-latino, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-woman, anti-Native American, and anti-natives.
[What’s] even more scary is that we have a vice president who has been a politician for a long time and is a really strong opponent of the LGBT community. And I am so sorry that they were elected, but just know that I march for you and I pray that you march for me.
I’m 27 years old. I got The Daily Show when I was 22. I learned a lot of s— when I was on that show and for me, I grew up. And the hardest part of growing up for me is realizing that the world is not inherently fair.
I grew up thinking that the civil rights movement already happened. That we already fought but this election was a wake up call. The silver lining of this election is that we are here on this early ass morning in literally 21 degrees supporting each other.
If you are a minority, please know that you are valid. Your thoughts and your feelings are valid. I stand with you. If you are transgender, know that it is already legal to discriminate against the transgender community in a majority of these United States.
There is a rush to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. And it’s not like sometimes I feel like I can grab racism and I can get it, but racism isn’t as overt as it used to be. It’s coded language. It hides. It’s fear. It’s disgusting. The racism comes in saying the first thing we want to do is defund Planned Parenthood. The first thing we want to do is cut Obamacare without a replacement plan. Those affect minorities and women in low income housing. That is a war on women. That is a war on black women.
I was not expecting that [meaning her outburst]. But I just want to say thank you so much for coming out [this morning]. Enjoy the rest of your day ,and enjoy the rest of the festival. I stand with you, I hope that you stand with me.’
- with additional reporting by MELODY CHIU