For Us, By Us: What the BET Awards Has Always Meant to Black Culture

Njera Perkins
4 min readJun 29, 2020

The biggest celebration of Black culture and entertainment has ruled the beginning of summer for the last two decades. The award show’s rich history of paying homage to our biggest stars across music, television, film, sports, and philanthropy has etched a permanent pedestal in the Black community.

The annual tradition of gathering for the BET Awards yields the same reaction every year and each mark has created timeless moments we still reminisce on to this day. This year — the same as any other year — we all gathered in front of our TV sets for a global watch party where we laughed, cried, and cheered for the culture. In a time where Black culture’s relevance is of the utmost importance, the BET Awards acts as a seminal tribute to Black excellence that allows us to celebrate ourselves in our truest forms. While many have tried to emulate the likeness of the BET Awards, none have been able to capture the authentic essence of our culture.

At this point in time, the BET Awards is the most important awards ceremony on the air. With an extreme emphasis on the emerging contemporary civil rights movement, this year BET did their due diligence to keep Black culture top of mind. According to Connie Orlando — EVP and Head of Specials, Music Programming and Music Strategy at BET Networks — Black Lives Matter was inherently baked into this year’s programming through each artist’s performances, messages from the industry’s brightest stars, and strategically-placed commercials centered around the movement.

The annual telecast has us hooked onto the essential programming that runs back the cultural celebration every year with bigger and better moments. Some of the most iconic moments of modern day Black culture have taken place right at the BET Awards and set the tone for the legacy it has created. Each year the awards show has grown bigger and bigger and we’ve grown right along with it, watching it adapt and shift to reflect the state of the culture. The BET Awards gave us the only platform that can bring together our great kings and queens of music, entertainment, and sports to commune for a special night every year. Black people who fought to enter forbidden spaces in Hollywood and the music industry are welcomed with open arms every year at the BET Awards where they receive the exposure mainstream recognition denies them.

Outside of the annual awards ceremony, the BET Awards has served as a launching pad for various other forms of programming that celebrate Black achievements including the BET Hip Hop Awards, BET Honors, Black Girls Rock! and more. More than that, many of our favorite artists were broken to mainstream audiences at the BET Awards as a necessary rite of passage in their superstar careers. We have BET and the awards’ massive platform to thank for introducing us to untapped talent and giving rising artists a place to foster their craft in front of an audience that appreciates what they have to offer.

While BET has long-since received criticism for their race-focused and sometimes outdated content over the years, the BET Awards is proof that award ceremonies dedicated to Black arts, music, and entertainment are needed in our community. Where we are snubbed and excluded from other outlets and their ceremonies, the BET Awards more than makes up for that. For years, the BET Awards was regarded as this top secret event for Black Hollywood, but the truth of the matter is Black culture has always been there and people are just now waking up.

At its simplest, the BET Awards is ours to have and ours to control. It’s our job as a community to uplift and upgrade strong pillars such as BET to reflect the kind of progress we need to see across each and every sector of life worldwide. We drive the culture and the BET Awards is one of the few spaces we have to truly honor all Black contributions. It may not be perfect, but it’s just for us, and we have a social responsibility to hold our platforms accountable for making change on our behalf. We have a platform that consistently works to position Black culture at the forefront of everything happening right now. The world may not be ready for what we want, but we’ll always have the support from platforms like BET to guide and sustain our values of Black lives. For any other place where our community has ever felt minimized and marginalized, we know we’ll always have somewhere to come back to with the BET Awards.



Njera Perkins

Writer. Journalist. Storyteller. Words are a powerful tool. @IAMNJERA