Actress Taraji P. Henson has continually used her platform as an avenue to spread awareness about the importance of mental health and she’s taking her efforts further with the creation of a new initiative. According to People, the Washington, D.C. native has launched a program to help Black students who are facing mental health struggles that stem from racism.
The project—dubbed the Unspoken Curriculum—is a six-week program for youth that is being led by her nonprofit The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation. The initiative was created to cultivate safe spaces where students can have candid discussions about their experiences surrounding racial bias in school. They will have the opportunity to connect with therapists and other mental health advocates.
Henson says while working as a substitute teacher she witnessed firsthand how socio-economic barriers had a detrimental effect on the mental health of Black youth. “I taught a special education class, but all of the students were Black boys who had all of their mental and physical capabilities. These children came from traumatic home situations, and the school labeled them ‘special ed,'” she said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “We’re in a state of emergency right now. But it takes us to change it… we can’t hide the ugly, you’ve got to deal with the good and the bad if we want to see change.” Henson’s nonprofit teamed up with the public relations firm Edelman for the development of the Unspoken Curriculum project. The program kicked off on May 17 and will run through June 21.
Programs like the one being led by Henson are needed. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Offices of Minority Health, in 2019 suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans between the ages of 15 and 24.
Since launching the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, Henson has led several impactful mental health-focused initiatives. She hosted a summit dubbed the “Can We Talk?” conference that served as a forum to develop strategies to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness in the Black community. Henson also led an effort to provide free mental health services for the Black community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.