A man was drowning, and he prayed to God for help. A plane comes along and tries to save him, but the man says, "No thanks, God will save me." The plane moves along, but it's not long before a ship passes by and offers him a lifeboat. He responds, "No, I prayed about this, God will send help." The boat also leaves the man to his prayers. When the man dies and gets to heaven, he asked God, "Why didn't you save me? I waited for you." God replied, "Why do you think I sent the plane and the ship?"
I think the Black community is a lot like that drowning man when it comes to mental health, but Taraji P. Henson is here to encourage us to stop being so damned stubborn and pick the lifejacket instead.
Our favorite TV mom recently slid through Capitol Hill and said a word about mental health in the black community and honey, it's time to give Taraji P. Henson all of her things. Giving us big Cookie Lyon energy, the actress sat at the frontlines of the Congressional Black Caucus Discussion on Mental Illness and Suicide and spoke her truth like a true queen.
In her address to the Black Congressional Caucus, Taraji explained that two years after her child's father was brutally murdered, in 2005, her own father also passed away. When she noticed how the back-to-back trauma had affected her son's behavior, she knew that it was time to seek professional help. Upon her research, she learned that finding a suitable therapist wouldn't be easy:
"It was like looking for a purple unicorn with a 24-carat-gold-horn. I say that jokingly, but it's serious. The reason why we don't have many psychiatrists of color, or psychologists of color, or therapists of color, is because we don't talk about it at home."
It was at that point that the Empire actress understood that she was facing a problem that had been generations in the making and ultimately recognized her calling. Along with creating The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named after her father who suffered from mental illness after his tour in Vietnam, Taraji has also launched her annual "Can We Talk" conference that focuses on creating strategies to end the mental health crisis in Black communities. She explained:
"We, in the African-American community, we don't deal with mental health issues. We don't even talk about it. We've been taught to pray our problems away. We've been demonized for coming out and saying we have [mental health] issues and we have trust issues. I need the person sitting opposite from me, when I go seek [mental] help, to be culturally competent. If you're not culturally competent how can I trust you with my deepest secrets and my vulnerability?"
While Taraji is on a mission to change the mental health system at-large, it's important to note that this much-needed transformation in our country starts at home. Growing up black, you're taught that crying makes you weak and vulnerability leaves you exposed to harm. This false theology has the potential to birth a nation of repressed black children and a future of mentally ill adults who have little to no resources.
While this way of thinking may have worked in the past, the increased rate of children committing suicide in the black community is a blatant sign that we're missing the mark, and quite frankly, we're drowning. Taraji broke down in tears when she expressed:
"It breaks my heart to know that 5-year-old children are contemplating life and death. So I'm here to appeal to you because this is a national crisis. When I hear of kids going into bathrooms cutting themselves, you're supposed to feel safe at school."
In an emotional plea, Taraji also proposed that Congress make mental health education a mandatory course in public schools, a measure that would be especially beneficial to low-income, Black students. After working as a special-ed teacher, Taraji saw that students that came from traumatic home environments were at a serious disadvantage when it came to their education and now seeks to do everything in her power to level the playing field. She explained:
"I'm here using my celebrity, using my voice, to put a face to this because I also suffer from depression and anxiety. And if you're a human living in today's world, I don't know how you're not suffering in any way, I mean if you turn on the news, that's PTSD right there. We need each other. This is me reaching across the table, trying to lend a helping hand in the best way I can. We have to save the children."
To watch Taraji's full address on C-SPAN, click here.
Taraji P. Henson on Mental Health (C-SPAN) www.youtube.com
Featured image by John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images.