Exclusive: Michael K. Williams' Last Video Before His Death: 'Thank You For Seeing Me Just the Way I Am'

Michael K. Williams, the late Emmy-nominated actor known mostly for The Wire and Boardwalk Empire, left behind a message about his life's traumas and the character studies he made of them. And an epitaph: "Thank you for seeing me just the way I am."

He recorded the brief video for the National Congress of Black Women, whose annual awards gala was held Sept. 19. When the organization told him he would be honored with its Dick Gregory Good Brother Award for community service, Williams spoke into a camera for more than a minute, anticipating that the short acceptance speech would be played during the virtual event.

Zenger has obtained a copy of the video, which appears to contain Williams' last public remarks before he was found in his Brooklyn, N.Y. penthouse apartment, the apparent victim of a drug overdose at age 54.

Michael K. Williams last video message
Michael K. Williams recorded an award acceptance speech for the National Congress of Black Women in the days before his Sept. 6 death. It may be the late actor's final videotaped message about his life's traumas and how the arts saved him. NCBW/Zenger

Williams wore a black t-shirt to record what he couldn't have known was a farewell. It read: "Protect Black Women."

The National Congress of Black Women is a nonpartisan group that advocates for greater participation by black women in all levels of government, civil society organizations and private-sector businesses.

Williams thanked the group while he downplayed the praise he received for mentoring young people in urban communities of color, and for pressing lawmakers to reform America's juvenile justice system.

"The work I do deserves no accolades, no pats on the back. In my heart, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing as a man from the same communities our youth are struggling in today," said Williams, who grew up in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

"If I don't come back and bring my gold and my experiences and my knowledge back to the community," he asked, "what's it all for?"

Michael K. Williams, Miami
Michael K. Williams, an actor known for his complex portrayal of Omar Little in “The Wire,” is pictured on March 31, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Getty Images/Rodrigo Varela

Despite a well-chronicled history of drug addiction, childhood sexual abuse and adolescence peppered with petty crime, Williams channeled his experiences into one of the most memorable and culturally impactful television characters in recent memory.

As Omar Little on The Wire, he played a brutal, notorious and gay stick-up man whose sawed-off shotgun added masculinity to a character that Hollywood might have sidelined a generation ago as an explosive contradiction. In the gritty grime of Baltimore's drug wars and corruption, Omar's sensitive private nature gave him complexity that put Williams on the map as a star.

In his final video, he thanked God for talents that allowed him "to exorcise and pour out some of my trauma that I experienced into the arts. Thank you for seeing me just the way I am."

Dr. E. Faye Williams, who was not related to the late actor, is the National Congress of Black Women'snational president. She told Zenger that the group's awards are meant "to honor those people who have made a significant difference in our communities." She called Michael K. Williams "an activist at heart. Giving back to the community played an important role in his off-camera life."

This year's honorees were selected in part because of their efforts to protect voting rights in underserved communities and promoting voter registration efforts in parts of the U.S. where those rights are at risk, according to Dr. Theresa Buckson, an obstetrician, who chaired the 2021 awards committee.

Buckson, who knew Williams for the last 15 years of his life, told Zenger that his death was "an immeasurable loss," and he "had a heart for social justice and for being a voice for those who had no voice."

"He also had a kindness about him that was different," she said. "And through the years I realized that above all, he wanted to be able to help others. He wanted to 'do good.' He was genuine."

Dr. E. Faye Williams, NCBW
Dr. E. Faye Williams, president of the National Congress of Black Women, is pictured protesting against Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2017, ahead of a Senate vote to confirm then-Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The National Congress of Black Womenrecognized 10 honorees during its Sept. 19 ceremony. Reps. Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) jointly received an award named after the late Shirley Chisolm, who was the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

National Education Association president Rebecca Pringle and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser shared an award named for Harriet Tubman. Kizzmekia Corbett, a scientist whose work contributed to COVID-19 vaccine development, received the group's Humanitarian Award.

Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown, former WNBA player and now Atlanta Dream co-owner Renee Montgomery, and celebrity fashion designer B. Michael were also honored.

Although modestly funded, the council's 2019 tax return shows it spent nearly one-third of its income, about $98,000, on outgoing grants that year, the latest for which IRS records are available. One grant helped to develop urban farming as a form of assistance for "underserved and underprivileged communities that are in desperate need of healthy foods."

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

Correction (9/23/2021, 12:40 p.m.): A previous version of this story inaccurately referred to the National Congress of Black Women as the National Council of Black Women.

Correction (9/23/2021, 4:50 p.m.): A previous version of this story misquoted Williams. His words have been corrected to say "my gold" rather than "my goals."

Updated 9/23/2021, 4:50 p.m.): This story has been updated to include Dr. Theresa Buckson's title as an obstetrician as well as quotes from Dr. Buckson.