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Oliver Gettell
November 10, 2015 AT 09:59 PM EST

Earlier this year Viola Davis made history by becoming the first black woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama, punctuating the moment with an impassioned speech about equal opportunity. At Glamour‘s Women of the Year Awards on Monday evening, the How to Get Away With Murder star called for continued conversation about difficult issues such as race relations and violence in America.

Serving as a presenter at the New York City event, Davis took the stage to recognize five women whose lives were affected by the shooting that left nine people dead at a historic black church in Charleston in June.

“I hope that there’s continuous, honest, unbridled dialogue,” Davis told People at the event.

“I hope for the people in power, that the dialogue results into active change of policies to move the race relations forward,” she added. “It could be anything: in education, in media, anything that moves it forward so it doesn’t look the same way it looked last year.”

While introducing honorees Polly Sheppard, Alana Simmons, Nadine Collier, Felicia Sanders, and Bethane Middleton-Brown, who lost loved ones in the shooting, Davis said, “I cannot imagine their pain. I cannot. But neither could I have imagined your strength and how their response to the tragedy helped move our country and our conversation about race and violence forward. They showed us all the healing power for unity and compassion. This is America at its best.”

For more from Davis and the honorees, head to People.

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