Tyler Perry celebrated how he emerged from a working poor family to become a multimedia mogul, during his emotional acceptance speech after being honored with the Governors Award at the Emmys on Sunday.
“When I was about 19 years old, I left home, and my grandmother, she gave me a quilt that she had made, and this quilt was something that I didn’t really care for, it had all these different colors, and these different patches in it, and I was quite embarrassed by it,” began Perry as he told his story. “I had no value in it at all,” he added. “When the dog got wet, I dried him off with it. When I needed to change the oil on the car, I laid it on the ground. I had no respect for this quilt.”
“Many years later, as I was walking past one of those fancy antique stores that I could finally go in and shop, I saw in the window a quilt that looked just like the one that she had given me,” continued Perry. “And as I’m in the store wondering where that quilt was, there was an attendant that walked up to me and said, ‘Let me tell you about this quilt.’”
Perry went on to explain what the quilt meant to the woman who made it:
It was made by an African-American woman who was a former slave, and each patch in the quilt she had put in represented a part of her life. One part was from a dress that she was wearing when she found out that she was free. Another part was from her wedding dress when she jumped the broom.
And I was hearing this story, I became so embarrassed. Here I was, a person who prides myself on celebrating our heritage, our culture, and I didn’t even recognize the value in my grandmother’s quilt. I dismissed her work and her story because it didn’t look like what I thought it should.
“Now, whether we know it or not, we are all sewing our own quilt with our thoughts, our behaviors, our experiences, and our memories,” Perry affirmed.
“Like in my own quilt, one of my memories was when I was about ten years old,” he continued. “I remember my father standing at the door and I was wondering why he stood there so long. He was frustrated and he walked away, and I asked my mother what was going on. She said he had worked all week and he was waiting for the man to come and pay him, and he never did.”
“And I tell you, she was so frustrated, she turned to me and she said, ‘Don’t you ever stand by a door waiting for white folks to do nothing for you,” he added. “Now you gotta understand, my mother wasn’t a racist, but in her quilt she couldn’t imagine a world where her son was not waiting by the door for someone.”
Perry went on to explain that in his mother’s quilt, she couldn’t have imagined him starting from where he did, and becoming the multimedia mogul that he is today.
“In her quilt, she couldn’t imagine me actually building my own door, and holding that door open for thousands of people,” said Perry. “In my mother’s quilt, she couldn’t imagine me owning land that was once a Confederate Army base, where Confederate soldiers plotted and planned on how to keep blacks enslaved.”
“And now, on that very land, black people, white people, gays, straight, lesbians, transgenders, ex-cons, Latin, Asian, all of us come together, working — all coming together to add patches to a quilt that is as diverse as it can be diversity at its best,” he said.
Last month, Perry teamed up with Georgia’s first lady Marty Kemp in a video to bring awareness to and stop human trafficking.
In July, the actor addressed the civil unrest by donating 1,000 Kroger gift cards to the Atlanta police so that they could, in turn, distribute them to members of the community.
“This is about the community that I love, that I live in and work in,” said Perry. “This is about good people who are in need of a hand up not a handout.”
You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.
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