“We’re in a state of emergency right now,” actress Taraji P. Henson said in describing the mental health struggles being experienced by Black youth across the country. To address those struggles, Henson recently launched a six-week initiative for Black students, called The Unspoken Curriculum.
Henson told People, the program will run through her mental health non-profit, The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation and help Black youth recognize the signs of mental health struggles.
The Unspoken Curriculum will run between May 17 and June 21 and will feature discussions with mental health professionals and online hangouts facilitated by educators and therapists where students can speak freely about their experiences.
“We can’t hide the ugly, you’ve got to deal with the good and the bad if we want to see change,” she told the outlet. Henson said she was inspired to launch the program after all that has happened over the last year, including the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing racial injustice. Her experience as a substitute teacher before breaking out in acting also inspired the program.
“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.
“These students were only in the 4th grade and they would grab my hand and say, ‘Ms. Henson! Ms. Henson! There was a shootout nearby last night, look at the bullet holes in the wall,’ and laugh,” she said. “That’s trauma –– that’s not something to celebrate or normalize.”
Some of her students stole from grocery stores because they didn’t have food at home, and would get caught by police. “We need more professionals in education to recognize children dealing with trauma and help them, not criminalize them,” she said.
Henson hopes by providing open forums will help raise more awareness and break stigmas in talking about mental health struggles.
“The more we talk about it, and the more we educate ourselves, the more we know how to do better,” she said.
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