Bob’s Blog: An Open Letter to Will Smith

Dear Mr. Smith,

First of all, congratulations on your winning the Oscar for your role in King Richard.  It was a terrific and inspiring film, and I derived great joy in watching you play the lead role.

This open correspondence to you is catalyzed by your now well-publicized encounter with Chris Rock — and may seem presumptuous of me, given the topic.  But it emanates from the heart of an African-American physician and former public health executive, and one who has spent much of my career advocating for the health and well-being of young people of color.  However you choose to navigate the fallout of this incident in the days and weeks ahead, I offer three thoughts as a frame for your own response.  They are as follows:

  1. Thank you for Your Statement Condemning the Use of Violence. Young people in America generally – but young men of color specifically – needed to hear from you in condemning the use of violence in any form as a mechanism to solve problems or disagreements, and issuing an apology for such an action.
  2. Seek Counseling. Counseling support or some other constructive form of therapeutic engagement is critical in the wake of such an incident.  The counseling support could come in the form of a psychologist, or some other licensed mental health professional, or a pastor.
  3. Go Public. Now that you have gone on record in condemning the use of violence, and that some form of counseling intervention is needed, then I would hope you would “go public” – for the benefit of young people – with your effort to seek counseling and support.  The United States Surgeon General recently issued a report highlighting the extraordinary crisis of mental health and well-being across our nation – and exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.  The research tells us that young people are feeling more angry, depressed, stressed, anxious, isolated, and disconnected than ever before.  And of course, young people of color are disproportionately impacted by this crisis.  Affirming the message that “we all need help from time to time” — that we all encounter moments of vulnerability or isolation or even rage — will be important for our nation’s young people to hear from you.  The stigma surrounding the matter of mental health and well-being remains a stubbornly pervasive barrier in seeking counseling and support.

Our foundation has agreed to rally to the call of our Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, in engaging our young people and their communities about how to respond accountably and constructively to their needs.  Perhaps the “incident at the Oscars” can serve as a helpful turning point in elevating how to confront a national crisis.


Robert K. Ross, MD

President & CEO, The California Endowment


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