WASHINGTON (Nexstar) — A well-known actress is using her celebrity to tackle change on Capitol Hill.
On Friday, actress Taraji P. Henson asked lawmakers to do more to reduce suicide rates among black youth.
“It breaks my heart to know that 5-year-old children are contemplating life and death,” Henson said during her emotional testimony.
The special hearing was called by the Congressional Black Caucus’ task force on black youth mental health after a study showed suicides rates among black children is on the rise while suicides for white children dropped.
“When a child commits suicide, there’s nowhere else to look but in the mirror,” said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat representing the District of Columbia.
Henson says the problem and solution starts at school.
“We need awareness in schools, and we need therapist there to guide them,” Henson said.
Before acting, Henson was a special education teacher where she saw the problem firsthand. She says black students wound up in her class instead of getting the help they needed.
“We’re expecting these children to come from traumatic experiences at home, and we’re expecting them to go to school and learn and it’s just not fair,” Henson said. “We can’t give up on our kids.”
Henson recently launched a nonprofit to tackle black mental health. At the hearing, caucus members thanked her and promised support.
“These conversations that we’re having today are very important as we the appropriators are looking for the money,” said U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat from New Jersey.
Lawmakers say they’re working to secure federal funding to invest in schools and help kids.
“It would be important for us to teach kids about their feelings and the importance of not blocking those feelings,” said U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota.
Friday marked the second hearing on the topic. Members are on a nationwide tour to raise awareness.
“When it comes to children no expense is too expensive, in my opinion, cause we’re saving our future,” Henson said.