Smollett: ‘I can’t let attackers win’
Smollett thanked the more than 300 people gathered at the event and struck a defiant note.
“I had to be here tonight, y’all, I couldn’t let those (expletives) … win,” he said, referring to his attackers. “Above all I fought … (expletive) back.”
He reiterated his calls for love, telling fans they needed to do away with hate because love is the only thing they had.
“I don’t even care to name any names,” he said. “The hateful rhetoric that gets passed around, it has to stop. But guess what, it stops with the people that believe in love.”
After the encore, an impassioned Smollett told the crowd, now is the time to be “blacker and gayer.”
Smollett praised openly gay TV actor Wilson Cruz of “My So-Called Life” for inspiring him.
Cruz, who was in attendance, said, “I’m unbelievably proud of him. If I was able to inspire him as a young person to be able to be his fullest self, that is a point of pride for me for the rest of my life.”
Sofie Khan, who is Mexican-Pakistani and identifies as bisexual, said she was amazed by Smollett’s performance.
“The emotion, the energy,” she said. “Look at all the people coming out. Black, white, Asian, gay, straight — the whole vibe of the people who were all there in love.”
While this was Smollett’s first public appearance since the attack, this is not the first time he has spoken out. In a statement first published by Essence on Friday, Smollett said his attack wasn’t an isolated incident.
“These types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender conforming siblings daily,” he said in the statement.
“During times of trauma, grief and pain, there is still a responsibility to lead with love. It’s all I know,” he said.
Earlier this week, Smollett addressed speculation that he had changed his initial story and was less than forthcoming with authorities.
“I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level,” he said. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”
Smollett’s family issued a statement Thursday supporting the actor and condemning the attack, calling it a “racial and homophobic hate crime.”
“Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning,” the statement read. “His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice.”
Chicago police have released photos of potential persons of interest in the attack and are asking for the public’s help in identifying who they are.
Investigators said they have video of Smollett entering the hotel after the alleged attack with what appears to be a noose around his neck.
CNN’s Don Lemon spoke to Smollett last week, and the actor told him he was shaken and angry that an attack like this could happen. He told him that he fought back against the attackers.