Perry opened by talking about his difficult childhood. He spoke about finding ways to cheer up his mother after she’d been abused by his father, and later told a story about walking to a new school and becoming friends with a man who needed help crossing a busy intersection. “It reminded me of my mother, bringing her out of pain with laughter to help her cross,” he said.
Perry said this “help somebody cross” ethos was a guiding force in his career, whether he was hiring people like Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis or Idris Elba, or opening his own film studio in “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.”
He also noted that the ground on which he built his studio used to be Fort MacPherson, a former Confederate Army base. “There were Confederate soldiers on that base, plotting and planning on how to keep 3.9 million Negroes enslaved,” Perry said. “Now that land is owned by one Negro.”
“It’s all about trying to help somebody cross,” Perry said as he brought his speech to a rousing close. “While everybody else is fighting for a seat at the table, talking about ‘#OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite,’ I said, ‘Y’all go ahead and do that. 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.”
He continued: “Rather than being an icon, I want to be an inspiration… I want you to hear this: Every dreamer in this room, there are people whose lives are tied to your dream. Own your stuff, own your business, own your way.”