Black members of Biden's Cabinet mark Black History Month

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FILE - Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Washington. Six Black members of President Joe Biden's Cabinet will be meeting for a Black History Month event Thursday highlighting their roles in the administration, some of which are historic firsts. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON – The six Black members of President Joe Biden's Cabinet on Thursday celebrated Black History Month by discussing their roles, some of which are historic firsts.

Actor Taraji P. Henson and athletes Sloane Stephens and Nneka Ogwumike also took part in a separate discussion on the importance of mental health and wellness among Blacks.

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Cedric Richmond, a former congressman who also is Black and is a top adviser to the president, moderated a conversation about Black leadership with the Cabinet members who advise Biden on everything from the military to foreign affairs to the economy.

Michael Regan, the first Black man to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, said during the livestreamed event that Black leadership is “extremely important.”

“Diverse leadership is extremely important because this is a democracy and, in order for a democracy to work, its leadership should reflect the people that it represents,” he said.

Other participants included Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first Black person in the post; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield; and Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Rouse is the first Black woman to lead the council.

Also present was Shalanda Young, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Young is awaiting a Senate vote on her nomination to become the agency's director. She would be the first Black woman to lead the office if confirmed, which is expected.

Biden promised the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history.

The conversation with Cabinet members was followed by a separate livestreamed event on the importance of mental health and wellness in the Black community, hosted by Susan Rice, Biden's domestic policy adviser, and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Henson, tennis pro Stephens and Ogwumike of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks shared stories of their challenges with mental health and wellness.

Henson opened the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named for her late father, to help eliminate the stigma around mental health issues among African Americans and to provide resources.

The singer-actor said the foundation was borne “out of my own necessity” after her son's father died when the child was 9, followed soon after by the loss of her father, a Vietnam veteran who had struggled with his own issues.

“There’s trauma there,” she said. “When it came time to address it, I didn't know where to go.”

Stephens, who won the U.S. Open title in 2017, has been the target of racist abuse on social media after losing matches.

Biden designated February as National Black History Month, writing in a proclamation that the observance “serves as both a celebration and a powerful reminder that Black history is American history, Black culture is American culture, and Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America — our faults, our struggles, our progress, and our aspirations."

Biden and his wife, Jill, and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, and Cabinet members will host commemorative events throughout February focused on the theme of “Black Health and Wellness,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The U.S. Secret Service hustled Emhoff out of a Black History Month event at Dunbar High School in Washington on Tuesday because of a bomb threat.

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