Taraji P. Henson was honored on Wednesday for her work in the mental health community at the Virtual 14th Annual HOPE Luncheon Seminar to benefit the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to cutting-edge depression research.
Past winners of the award include LeAnn Rimes, Anderson Cooper, Lorraine Bracco and Brooke Shields.
In Henson’s videotaped acceptance speech for the Community Ambassador of Hope Award, which PEOPLE is exclusively debuting, Henson says “We don’t talk about mental health in the Black community.”
“We’ve been taught that we should pray our problems away,” she says. “We’ve been taught to hold our problems close to the vest out of fear of being labeled weak or inadequate.”
Henson, who spoke about her personal journey with PTSD and depression when she was named one of PEOPLE’s Women Changing the World in 2019, is being honored for the campaign she started in April to help the Black community access free, virtual therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Henson, 50, launched the campaign through The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which she named in honor of her father, who suffered from mental health issues after his tour of duty in the Vietnam War.
Founded in 2018, the nonprofit seeks to “change the perception of mental illness in the African American community by encouraging those who suffer with this debilitating illness to get the help they need.”
Finding the right therapist can be challenging for those in the Black community, a professional who “we can trust with our deepest vulnerabilities” and who also understands “the stresses of simply being Black in America,” Henson says.
This includes “racism, mass incarceration, police brutality and inequality in health care and persistent exclusion from economic opportunities,” she says.
Her goal, she says, is to “normalize how we talk about mental health.”
Kudos to you, Taraji, for taking on such challenging advocacy for the Black community.