Recently I shot a film that I am very proud to be a part of — For Colored Girls, directed by Tyler Perry, based on the award-winning choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, by Ntozake Shange.
For Colored Girls is about dysfunctional relationships of all kinds. The personal toll that a dysfunctional relationship can levy on any of us can be, without question, one of the most difficult things we have to deal with.
In my work with young people through my Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, I have heard many real-life stories that reflect the experiences of abuse, neglect and violence depicted in For Colored Girls. Moreover, I frequently receive letters, e-mails and verbal accounts of depression, dysfunction and trauma of all kinds. I recently got a letter from a young woman who is studying at a historically black school and contracted a sexually transmitted disease when she was coerced into having sex with an older adult man. She was in a state of massive depression and didn't know what to do or where to turn.
The young woman who wrote to me consulted a doctor for her STD but did not simultaneously address her mental health. Fact is, only one out of three African Americans who need mental health care receives it. Why? Think about it: When we're not feeling well — for instance, if we have a cough or a migraine — we immediately take stock of our condition. We start adding up all of our symptoms and try to match them to an illness. We start monitoring those symptoms to figure out if we are getting better or getting worse. And if we suspect the latter, we go to someone who can help us get better.
When it comes to our mental health, we're conditioned to not pay the same kind of attention or to have the same set of responses. We're told by people around us to "cheer up," but rarely do people suggest that we go to a doctor who can help.
We all have to take care of all aspects of our well-being, as well as the well-being of others. Crystal (Kimberly Elise) in For Colored Girls experiences great loss and is overwhelmed (understandably so) by feelings of pain, guilt and mourning. Her friend and neighbor, Gilda (Phylicia Rashad), helps bring her out of her darkness — literally and figuratively — and tells her that she cannot live her life waiting to die. She must rebuild, and seek and find happiness and joy and color in her life once again.
It's hard to remember that things will get better, that time can heal. It's hard to think that things will work themselves out — especially when everything feels wrong — but there's nothing wrong with reminding yourself that it is going to be OK.
No matter what challenges we are facing, we must develop the tools to overcome and live our best lives. We must seek the help of others, if need be — not close ourselves off.
Prayer is one of the most effective tools I use to remind myself that whatever state I'm in is only temporary. Another way I was taught to remind myself is by using self-affirming mantras: looking in the mirror and simply saying, "Everything is going to be fine." Or, "You are 'FINE': You are fantastic, interesting, necessary and exceptional."
The pride of having been a part of such an exceptional cast in For Colored Girls further reminds me that all of us have our own unique, brilliant voices to share with the world. And if you are reading this now, take it from me: You are brilliant, beautiful and amazing. So smile more. Live, love and laugh!
Hill Harper is an award-winning actor, best-selling author and philanthropist. He stars on the TV drama CSI: NY and is the author of three New York Times best-sellers. He is the founder of the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, dedicated to empowering underserved youths to succeed through mentorship, scholarship and grant programs. Hill holds a B.A. from Brown University, a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a master's from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.