In the word of my fellow American, Malcolm X: I’m gonna make it plain. In 1877, America, the greatest country on this planet, put in place laws called the Jim Crow laws. And the Jim Crow laws restricted the rights of quadroons, octoroons, blacks, Hispanics, Indians, Malays. Restricted medical, restricted relationships, restricted education, restricted life. It told us we were less than, and it came on the heels of the 13th Amendment. It came on the heels of 55 individuals, great Americans, writing the greatest document, called the Constitution of the United States, saying, “We the people.”
Now, the reason why those destructive laws came into place I think can be greatly described by Martin Luther King [Jr.]. And what he said about time is, he said, I’m not ready to wait 100 to 200 years for things to change. That I think actually time is neutral. That it can either be used constructively or destructively. That human progress rarely rolls on inevitability. It is through human dedication and effort that we move forward. And that when we don’t work, what happens is that time actually becomes an ally to the primitive forces of social stagnation, and the guardians of the status quo are in their oxygen tanks keeping the old order alive.
And so that time needs to be helped, by every single moment, doing right. The reason why Jim Crow laws were in place, that stifled my rights and your rights, is because we fell asleep. We fall asleep when we’re moving ahead and we don’t look to the left and right and see we’re not including people in this move ahead. Because really, at the end of the day, we only move forward when it doesn’t cost us anything. But I’m here today saying that no one and nothing can be great unless it costs you something.
One out of every five women will be sexually assaulted and raped before she reaches the age of 18. One out of six boys. If you are a woman of color and you are raped before you reach the age of 18, then you are 66 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted again. Seventy percent of girls who are sex-trafficked are girls of color. They are coming out of the foster-care system, they are coming out of poverty. It is a billion-dollar industry. When they go into the sex-trafficking business — and they call it a business, trust me — more than likely, they are gang raped.
I am speaking today not just for the “Me Too’s” because, I was a “Me Too,” but when I raise my hand, I am aware of all the women who are still in silence. The women who are faceless. The women who don’t have the money and don’t have the constitution and who don’t have the confidence and who don’t have the images in our media that gives them a sense of self-worth enough to break their silence that’s rooted in the shame of assault. That’s written on the Statute of Liberty is: Come. Come you tireless, poor, yearning to breathe free. To breathe free. Every single day, your job as an American citizen is not just to fight for your rights. It’s to fight for the right of every individual that is taking a breath, whose heart is pumping and breathing on this earth.
And like the originators of the “Me Too’s,” the Fannie Lou Hamers, the Recy Taylors, who in 1944 was gang-raped by six white men and she spoke up. Rosa Parks fought for her rights. She was silenced. To the Tarana Burkes, to the originators, to the first women to speak up. It cost them something. Nothing and no one can be great without a cost.
Listen, I am always introduced as an award-winning actor. But my testimony is one of poverty. My testimony is one of being sexually assaulted and very much seeing a childhood that was robbed from me. And I know that every single day, when I think of that, I know that the trauma of those events are still with me today. And that’s what drives me to the voting booth. That’s what allows me to listen to the women who are still in silence. That’s what allows me to even become a citizen on this planet, is the fact that we are here to connect. That we are as 324 million people living on this earth, to know that every day, we breathe and we live. That we got to bring up everyone with us.
I stand in solidarity of all women who raise their hands because I know that it was not easy. And my hope for the future—my hope, I do hope—is that we never go back. That it’s not just about clapping your hands and screaming and shouting every time someone says something that sounds good. It’s about keeping it rolling once you go home.
I was there marching for equality for women, to stand with those who are against sexual harassment on the job and in society at large. I marched also to demonstrate my allegiance to every minimum wage hard-working American, whomever they be—woman, man, sexual orientation, political party and world view, and marched for universal healthcare and a living wage and 30-hour work week and 3 months off for a vacation to have some fun in life too, and most importantly, keeping church separate from state by standing in the way of this country becoming a theocracy.