Henson unveiled the campaign, which was created to help “under-served communities experiencing life-changing events related to, or triggered by, the COVID-19 pandemic,” on Instagram on Wednesday.
The campaign is being sponsored by the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named for Henson’s father, who suffered from mental health challenges after serving in the Vietnam War. The foundation, according to its website, is “committed to changing 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.”
“In the African-American community, we’ve been taught to tough it out, hide our suffering, but this is something none of us have ever experienced, and no one should suffer in silence,” Henson said on Instagram.
According to the campaign’s website, the “COVID-19 Free Virtual Therapy Support Campaign” will work to ensure that “individuals with life-changing stressors and anxiety related to the coronavirus will have the cost for up to five (5) individual sessions defrayed on a first come, first serve basis until all funds are committed or exhausted.”
Although racial data on the coronavirus’ impact is so far limited, research suggests that people of color — and Black Americans in particular — are dying at disproportionately higher rates in the United States. In Chicago, for example, 72 percent of virus-related fatalities have been among the city’s Black community, despite the fact that African-Americans account for a little less than a third of the population.
“Those numbers take your breath away, they really do,” Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s first black woman mayor, told the New York Times. The statistics, she added, were “among the most shocking things I think I’ve seen as mayor.”
Although researchers have yet to pinpoint definitive causes of the disparities, decades of structural and economic inequality have no doubt been contributing factors. Black Americans are far more likely to work jobs that they are unable to perform remotely, for example, and are also statistically far less likely to have easy access to adequate medical care or grocery stores selling healthy, fresh food, according to the Times.
“These communities, structurally, they’re breeding grounds for the transmission of the disease,” Sharrelle Barber, an assistant research professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University, told the Times. “It’s not biological. It’s really these existing structural inequalities that are going to shape the racial inequalities in this pandemic.”
Now, Henson is seeking to change this by offering support in any way possible to the Black communities that are disproportionately suffering from the pandemic. Virtual therapy services are set to begin on April 15th.