Perry began his speech by speaking of his mother, who would take him with her while she met up with friends in the projects to play cards. He said he observed his mother and her friends speaking to each other about life and lifting each other up with jokes and laughter when conversations turned sad.
"I didn't know I was in a master class for my life," he said, saying he would then come home and see his father physically abusing his mother and he would go to his mother later and imitate her friends, making her laugh.
Perry said he would have to walk through a cemetery and pass pimps and prostitutes when he was 11 or 12 years old to get to school. One day, he said, a man was asking people to help him cross the six-lane intersection and as others walked past, Perry stopped and helped him cross the street.
“When I started hiring people like Taraji, Viola Davis and Idris Elba, they couldn’t get jobs in this town, but God blessed me to be in a position to be able to hire them. I was trying to help somebody cross,” he said. "When I built my studio, I built it in a neighborhood that is one of the poorest black neighborhoods in Atlanta so that young black kids could see that a black man did that, and they can do it, too. I was trying to help somebody cross.
“The studio was once a Confederate army base, and I want you to hear this, which meant that there was Confederate soldiers on that base, plotting and planning on how to keep 3.9 million Negroes enslaved. Now that land is owned by one Negro."
The star-studded audience stood in applause.
“It’s all about trying to help somebody cross," he said. "While everybody else is fighting for a seat at the table, talking about, 'Oscars So White, Oscars So White,’ I said, ‘Y’all go ahead and do that, but while you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.’ Because what I know for sure is that if I could just build this table, God will prepare it for me in the presence of my enemies.”
Tyler Perry accepts the Ultimate Icon Award onstage at the 2019 BET Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for BET)