"When you're struggling or feeling burnout, it's hard to show up for other people," says the star, one of PEOPLE's Women Changing the World

By Brianne Tracy
March 03, 2021 11:00 AM
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Camila Cabello is using her platform for change.

In January, the singer-songwriter, 24, launched the Healing Justice Project in partnership with the nonprofit Movement Voter Fund to provide grants to 10 BIPOC, LGBTQ+and youth-led organizations to cover six months' worth of mental health support for their workers.

"A lot of activists don't have the time or resources to take care of themselves," Cabello tells PEOPLE in this week's Women Changing the World issue, on newsstands Friday. "When you're struggling or feeling burnout, it's hard to show up for other people. You have to heal yourself before you can heal the community."

Cabello saw that firsthand when she, along with her boyfriend Shawn Mendes, joined protesters in Miami in the wake of George Floyd's death last May. "You recognize your privilege," she says.

Five months earlier she'd offered a public apology for racist language she'd used on Tumblr as a teen and had reached out to the National Compadres Network, a racial equity group, to take part in weekly racial healing sessions.

"It created a space where I was held accountable," she says. "You get corrected, you have homework, and you learn. That's how you move forward. Now I know better so I can do better."

The conversations moved Cabello — a Cuban immigrant who first shot to fame with the girl group Fifth Harmony on The X Factor U.S.A. in 2012 — to action.

"As I learned more about other people's experiences in the world, I was like, 'How do I help the people who are on the frontlines of dismantling systems that create oppression? And how do I bridge that with my own personal journey with mental health and healing?'" says Cabello, who has long been open about her own experiences with anxiety.

The result was the Healing Justice Project. In the initial funding round, Cabello and Movement Voter Fund provided nearly $250,000 to go to 10 different organizations: Black Leaders Organizing Communities, Faith For Justice, Freedom, Inc., Living United for Change in Arizona, Mass Liberation Arizona, MN350, Muslim Women For, QLatinx, Southerners on New Ground and Student Advocacy Center of Michigan.

"What all the organizations have in common is that they are helping their communities, especially marginalized groups in their communities," says Cabello. "They all also expressed a need for these mental wellness resources."

For QLatinx — a grassroots social-justice organization founded in the wake of the 2006 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando to empower Central Florida's LGBTQ+ Latino community — the support has been transformative.

"Our people are on the frontlines doing work [with] passion. This is what we do," says executive director Gabriella Rodriguez, 34. "It's awesome to be able to say, 'I need you to take a moment and step back.' We are role models for the community, so at the end of the day our cup needs to be full too."

Rodriguez says that thanks to the grant money, she's been able to meet one-on-one with each of her staff members to talk about their needs in terms of mental health.

"In this work, that's never been a conversation," she says. "For some it's literally like, 'Hey, I've always wanted to go to X, Y, and Z place.' I have others that talk therapy works for them. I have others that are [doing] healing circles and meditation. We're able to do something that historically we've never been able to do."

Like QLatinx, the other organizations have been able to assess the individual needs of their workers to determine how to spend the grant money.

"In conversations, we talked about tools that have helped me in my own life, like breath work and learning how to calm down your nervous system," Cabello says. "For some people, maybe it's talk therapy. Finding a good therapist has been really helpful for me in challenging thinking patterns that were causing me to feel anxious or self-destructive. Doing 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation has been really helpful for me too."

"It feels so hard when I feel anxious or depressed," she continues. "And these are people on the frontlines that have so many oppressive systems that are preventing them from being their full selves because you're just trying to survive. Imagining what that kind of trauma and that struggle feels like in somebody else's body makes you be like, 'I don't want this for other people.' I know not everybody has the resources that I have access to because of where I am right now. So I want to help."

In the future, Cabello hopes to provide more rounds of grants to help activists in need.

"Meeting all these really cool, badass heroes in the community and around [the country] who are trying to move the world forward and make the world a better and safer place for everybody [has been amazing]," she says. "I'm hoping to learn more from them about what they do and what their experience in the world is like."

In the meantime, she'll be looking to her mom, Sinuhe Estrabao, for inspiration.

"My mom, [her] whole life is about serving other people," says Cabello. "She's loving people exactly as they are, with all of their flaws and their edges, me included. I'm her daughter, so she's a little bit biased, but she's actually like that with everybody. She's a legend."

For all the details on how Camila Cabello is changing the world, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.