The 2,597th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is going to Viola Davis.

The ceremony for Davis, who Walk of Fame producer Ana Martinez described as an actress "who always mesmerizes fans with her talent," is set for Jan. 5, 2017.

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.


Davis rose to stardom after 2008's "Doubt," then snagged an Academy Award nomination for her performance in 2011's "The Help," and is currently starring on ABC's "How to Get Away With Murder" ("HTGAWM"). There's also Oscar buzz surrounding her performance in the Denzel Washington-directed "Fences." She's certainly deserving of the honor on merit alone.

Powerhouse performances aside, the news about Davis' Hollywood star feels especially right at this time given that she's often been the empowering, important breath of fresh air Hollywood so desperately needs.

Here are seven reasons to be excited about Davis' star on the Walk of Fame:

1. Davis was the first woman of color ever to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2015.

"The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity," she said on stage during her historic victory. "You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there." She's got a point: Leading roles for black women are few and far between.

Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images.

2. Davis currently stars on ABC's "How to Get Away With Murder" as Annalise Keating, a queer woman of color — a type of character we don't see nearly enough.

Along with the lack of opportunity for actors and actresses of color, there's also a lack of on-screen positive representation of certain groups within the LGBTQ community. Keating, a successful lawyer, isn't defined by her bisexuality nor does the character fall into the damaging tropes we often associate with bisexual people.

"I loved the relationship," Davis told AfterEllen of Keating's on-screen romance with a woman. "There was something so natural about it. And I just thought it made sense because I think in Annalise’s life, she just migrates toward anyone who shows her love."

3. Davis demanded she not wear a wig, weave, or makeup during a powerful scene in order to better reflect underrepresented women.

"I was so adamant about it," Davis said of fighting to be wig and makeup-free in the scene on "How to Get Away With Murder." "I said, 'Listen, she can’t go to bed with her wig on. She cannot be in that bedroom with her wig on because women don’t go to bed with their wigs on.' And I said, ‘A whole portion of women out there are marginalized. I want to be a real woman. Let’s go for it.'"

GIF via "How to Get Away With Murder."

There's a long history of black women being told their natural hair is unprofessional, ugly, and distracting. Because of these (super racist) perceptions, it's not every day we see black actresses rocking their natural looks on TV. While there's of course nothing wrong with any woman wearing wigs or styling their hair whichever way they please, Davis' decision to go au naturel meant a lot to many women watching.

4. Davis has become a body-positivity champion in an industry that could use a lot of work on the topic.

At the Critics Choice Awards earlier this month, Davis accepted the first-ever #SeeHer Award, which was created by a campaign aimed at ending bias against women in the media. Her acceptance speech, focused on staying true to yourself and discovering the privilege of being who you are, instantly went viral:

"You know, when I was handed Annalise Keating, I said, 'She’s sexy, she’s mysterious, you know?' I’m used to playing women who gotta gain 40 pounds and have to wear an apron. So I said, 'Oh God, I gotta to lose weight, I gotta learn how to walk like Kerry Washington in heels, you know, I gotta lose my belly.' And then I asked myself, 'Well, why do I have to do all that?' I truly believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, and I just recently embraced that at 51."

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for The Critics' Choice Awards.

5. Davis has spoken out about the absurdity of women — especially woman of color — getting paid less than men for doing equal work.

Actresses — even the most accomplished, successful ones — routinely get paid less than their male counterparts. It doesn't sit well with Davis.

"I’m sorry, if a woman does the same job as a man, she should be paid the same amount of money, she just should," Davis told Mashable in February 2016. "But at the same time, with me as an actress of color, I have to say to probably contradict myself, that’s not something I think about on a daily basis. Because the struggle for us as women of color is just to be seen the same as our white female counterparts."

6. Davis won't accept the unfair ways Hollywood portrays women of certain ages and body sizes when it comes to their sexuality.

"We've been fed a whole slew of lies about women," she told Elle in January 2016. "[On TV], if you are anywhere above a size two, you're not having sex. You don't have sexual thoughts. You may not even have a vagina. And if you're of a certain age, you're off the table."

7. Davis understands that life is too short to give any credence to the haters. Instead, focus on the people who love you just the way you are.  

"When my father was passing — it was really a short period of time — I think that started the ball rolling," Davis told Oprah in 2012. "You don’t have time. You’re on this earth for a dash of time, really, and then that’s it. ... Knowing that, it just changed everything. I felt like I don’t have any time to stay up all night, worrying about what someone who doesn’t love me has to say about me."

Davis' acting chops are more than enough to land her a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, period. But the icing on the cake tastes so much sweeter knowing the star's going to an actress making this world a better place off-screen, too.

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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