As a former substitute teacher, Taraji P. Henson is on a mission to end racial bias in the classroom, while simultaneously starting open discussions surrounding mental health. The award-winning actress recently launched a program that promotes mental health awareness and racial equality.
By: Jeroslyn Johnson
Henson designed “The Unspoken Curriculum,” a six-week program that helps Black scholars learn and identify racial bias while speaking openly about their mental health. Launched in Mental Health Awareness Month, the Empire star stressed the importance of tackling race-related issues head-on.
“WE’RE IN A STATE OF EMERGENCY RIGHT NOW,” SHE TOLD PEOPLE. “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.”
Inspired by the wake of protests in the last year following the police shooting of George Floyd, and how the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the Black community, Henson created the virtual hub to serve as a support group where students can speak openly about their school experiences, therefore aiding their mental health. Prior to starring in 2001’s Baby Boy, Henson witnessed racial bias in the classroom firsthand.
“I TAUGHT A SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASS, BUT ALL OF THE STUDENTS WERE BLACK BOYS WHO HAD ALL OF THEIR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL CAPABILITIES,” SHE RECALLED. “THESE CHILDREN CAME FROM TRAUMATIC HOME SITUATIONS, AND THE SCHOOL LABELED THEM ‘SPECIAL ED. 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. THAT’S TRAUMA — THAT’S NOT SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE OR NORMALIZE.”
The program runs from May 17 to June 21 and includes virtual discussions from mental health experts and safe spaces moderated by therapists and teachers. Henson launched the curriculum through her mental health non-profit, The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, Bin News reports.
“We need more professionals in education to recognize children dealing with trauma and help them, not criminalize them,” she said. “The more we talk about mental health, and the more we educate ourselves, the more we know how to do better.”