BENNETT RAGLIN VIA GETTY IMAGES
Rapper and actress Queen Latifah’was honored with the lifetime achievement award at the 2021 BET Awards, an embodiment of the show’s theme, “Year of the Black Woman.” Latifah, born Dana Owens, is known for her multi-hyphenate career, showcasing talents from her music and acting to her philanthropy.
Prior to accepting the award, Latifah was honored in a video package by friends including Jada Pinkett Smith before fellow female rappers Rapsody, Monie Love, Lil Kim and MC Lyte paid tribute to Latifah with a medley of “Ladies First” and “U-N-I-T-Y.”
“Thank you so much, everyone. Thank you, my sisters – y’all my sisters in the name of rap. You always have been. I’m so extremely moved that I don’t even know what to say. Let me just say that I want to thank God because God designed this whole thing to be this way,” an emotional Latifah, 51, began her acceptance speech.”
“There is no way that I could have had the parents that I was born to – my father, my mother [who died in 2018], who is still so much in me – my family, I love you – my siblings. My best friends who ride or die with me whether my face is on the dirt or I’m flying in the skies – they know me. And they’re there for me.”
She continued, “I want to thank BET for creating an outlet for beautiful blackness to thrive, to shine. When we couldn’t get played on the radio and other places; we couldn’t get our videos played. There was BET, that allowed us to be in our fullness and to shine. To this night, right now, right here – bless everybody and everyone in the audience for all your support. Black is beautiful. I was raised by strong black women. We can’t live without each other. Celebrate. Celebrate us so together we stand stronger.”
Latifah went on to praise Shakim Compere, her business partner in Flavor Unit Entertainment.
“Shakim, I thank you right now for keeping your promise to my mother, to always protect me. Thank you for always protecting me and loving me. I love you for that.”
She wrapped up by telling fans how much she appreciates their support of all aspects of her career, before sending a sweet message to her family.
“I’m gonna get off this stage, but I thank you so much for all of you, the fans for supporting every crazy-ass thing I’ve done through the years. And thank you for making Equalizer No. 1. Eboni, my love. Rebel, my love. Peace. Happy Pride!”
Ahead of the show, BET Awards host Taraji P. Henson raved to PEOPLE about Latifah’s ability to do so much in her career, from her talk show and acting to working in several genres of music.
“I’m grateful that we’re giving Queen Latifah her flowers while she’s still alive. This is an award that is long overdue for her. She taught me that it’s more to acting than just being in front of the camera,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Equalizer star opened up on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast to discuss the ways her parents – beloved school teacher Rita Owens, and police tactical officer Lancelot Owens, Sr. – raised her to as strong as she is today, preparing her to become a trailblazer for Black culture.
“I’m not dependent on the world telling me who I am,” said the actress. “I have people who really will go through the fire with me and I’ll go through the fire with them and we have.”
— #BETAwards (@BETAwards) June 28, 2021