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About 2,500 miles stood between the bright lights of Hollywood and the flickering candles at vigils in Charlottesville, Virginia, when Zendaya took the stage at the Teen Choice Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday.

The horrors of the weekend still wore heavy on the hearts of many in attendance, and Zendaya, who has never shied away from speaking her mind, didn't let her moment go to waste.


Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

The 20-year-old star won "Choice Summer Movie Actress" for her role in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and used her acceptance speech to encourage young people to stand up for what's right.

“'Spider-Man' is about a young person," Zendaya began. "And so right now I want to talk to all the young people in the audience."

She continued (emphasis added):

"With all the injustice and the hatred and everything that is happening — not only in the world, but in our country — right now I need for you young people, I need you guys to be educated, I need you to listen, I need you to pay attention, and I need you to go ahead and understand that you have a voice and it is OK to use it when you see something bad happening."

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Zendaya wasn't alone in her call to action. While no one specifically mentioned Charlottesville, a number of Teen Choice attendees alluded to the atrocities that happened there over the weekend and promoted hopeful messages of unity, including "Black-ish's" Yara Shahidi and Fifth-Harmony's Lauren Jauregui.

Their messages were ones Americans needed to hear.

The Teen Choice Awards aired as the country was still reeling from unconscionable acts of bigotry and violence.  

On Aug. 11, horrifying images of hundreds of white nationalists marching on the University of Virginia, burning torches in hand, went viral across Facebook and Twitter.

The following day, a "Unite the Right" conference in Charlottesville turned deadly, as alleged white supremacist James Fields ran over a crowd of protesters in his vehicle, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

President Trump's initial response to the violence and Heyer's death was ... not reassuring.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides," the president said on Aug. 12, doubling down on the idea that "many sides" are to blame. "It's been going on for a long time in our country. ... This has been going on for a long, long time."

Notably, there was no mention of white supremacy or racism in the president's initial remarks, which seemed to equivocate the hatred on display by literal Nazis with the actions of those protesting the alt-right conference.

A slew of leaders on both sides of the aisle were quick to criticize Trump, noting the president didn't go far enough in condemning the overt acts of bigotry, including Senator Marco Rubio, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer.

On Monday morning, Aug. 14, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier quit the president's manufacturing council, siting Trump's weak response to the incidents in Charlottesville. (In true form, Trump quickly bashed Frazier on Twitter.)

Trump followed up with an additional statement hours after Frazier's decision, condemning white supremacy using more forceful language. But in a certain sense, the damage had already been done.

The president's reaction to the horrors in Virginia raises another question: Why not call Heyer's death an act of terrorism?

Several other leaders acknowledged that the murder certainly meets the definition of domestic terrorism; even Trump's own attorney general, Jeff Sessions — who carries his own appalling history of racist views — considers it such.

Why can't the president — who's always been quick to call out terrorism when it comes at the hands of Islamists (read: when it's more politically convenient) — call a spade a spade when it comes to Charlottesville?

Zendaya would really like to know.

The actor and singer ended her speech on Sunday reminding young people that they'll soon have the power to make an even bigger difference in our world.

"You’re the future leaders of the world; we are the future leaders of the world," Zendaya said. "You’re the future presidents, the future senators. And you guys are the ones who are going to make this world better. So I’m just letting you know right now that you are the future, OK? So take that very, very seriously, all right?”

Watch Zendaya's speech at the Teen Choice Awards below:

This article originally appeared on 09.06.17


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