Taraji P. Henson Created a Mental Health Program for Black Students

The Unspoken Curriculum will help Black students combat racial bias in the classroom and work through trauma.

Taraji P. Henson is continuing to be an advocate for Black mental health. The Empire actress founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in 2018 to provide mental health resources and support for the Black community. Now, she’s launched a program through that foundation, called The Unspoken Curriculum, that’s tailored specifically for Black students.

The Unspoken Curriculum is a six-week program, launching in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, that will help Black students combat racial bias in the classroom and the mental distress it causes. The program’s page shares several disheartening statistics about how Black students are treated in school. According to the UNCF, “Schools with 90 percent or more students of color spend $733 less per student per year than schools with 90 percent or more white students.” Additionally, “Black students are also 3.8 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white students.”

As The Unspoken Curriculum’s website reads, “what is learned in the classroom goes far beyond the lesson plans,” and the way that Black students are treated in school affects not only their education but also the way they learn to see themselves.

“We’re in a state of emergency right now,” Henson told People in an interview about the program. “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.”

According to People, the program, running from May 17 until June 21, “will include discussions with mental health experts and virtual hangout spaces moderated by therapists and educators, where students can speak openly about mental health and their experiences in school.” Henson helped design the program herself with support from public relations firm Edelman—and her personal connection to it runs deep.

Before her acting career took off, Henson worked as a substitute teacher and was firsthand witness to racism against Black students.

“I taught a special education class, but all of the students were Black boys who had all of their mental and physical capabilities,” she told People. “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.”

This is why The Unspoken Curriculum is not only focusing on combatting racial bias, but also on identifying and working through signs of trauma in the classroom. Henson also shared with People that during her time as a substitute teacher, some of her students would get caught by police stealing food from local stores because they had nothing to eat in their homes.

“We need more professionals in education to recognize children dealing with trauma and help them, not criminalize them,” she said. 

Henson also shared that some of the racial bias she experienced during her own time as a student still affects her to this day. “Working in Hollywood, I’m less confident to speak out because I’ll think, ‘I don’t want to be made out to be the Black woman with an attitude,'” she said. “But why shouldn’t I be able to speak my mind? These are things that, at 50, I’m still dealing with.”

She hopes The Unspoken Curriculum will give Black students the necessary tools to work through this trauma now and change the trajectory for others in the future.

“The more we talk about it, and the more we educate ourselves,” she said, adding, “the more we know how to do better.”

Head to The Unspoken Curriculum now to download a discussion guide, donate to the cause, share your own story, or sign up for the newsletter to stay informed.

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