It is National Minority Health month, and everyone is speaking up about it.

Even Empire‘s Bryshere Gray.

On Monday, April 4, 2016, hundreds of students congregated at BEyond Expectations, which is a series for young men of color to promote mental-health awareness. This collaboration between First Person Arts and the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disability Services (DBHIDS) selected seven students to tell their stories alongside government officials like Mayor Kenney and School Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., and the Empire star known on the show as Yazz the Greatest.

“We wanted youth to hear stories of people in their own voices,” said Arthur C. Evans, DBHIDS commissioner.

Gray told anecdotes about his rise to stardom, by adding some truth about the tough climb it took to get there. Born in Germantown and raised in West Philadelphia, Gray told students, “I was homeless, and I’m on the biggest show in the world now. I’m living proof that you all can do whatever you all want to do.”

He thanked some of the positive people in his life, including his mother, manager Charlie Mack, and his friends and family members for helping him keep his mind on the positive. He did remark that he wishes he had more guidance growing up, thanking that mentors like Will Smith and the Roots’ Black Thought for his success.

“They lived it,” Gray said in an interview that morning. “They’ve been in the game longer. You really have to listen, and it saves you from making mistakes they may have made.”

One of the most important lessons that Gray told the students – a room full of young men of color – was that it is OK to cry. He does.

This event allowed students to understand the control that they have over their life, which was something that Evans said was needed.

“Men of color face a unique set of issues within this societal context,” Evans said. “When [they] don’t have the opportunity to articulate that, those issues can be ignored. ”

He said that there is a number of issues that marginalize men of color like violence, poor education, and lack of economic opportunity.

“Disproportionately, the youth in juvenile justice in this country are young males, many of whom have mental-health challenges, and [they] are more likely to be labeled as bad,” Evans said.

Hopefully, more events like this become more popular as they create open conversations in communities of color around mental and emotional health.

(Photo Credit: DAVID MAIALETTI/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

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