Grey's Anatomy Kelly McCreary Is 'Grateful' for the Chance to Explore Realities of Being Black on TV

"I'm really grateful that we have the opportunity to talk about the very particular ways in which Black girls and Black women are vulnerable or treated differently," Kelly McCreary tells PEOPLE

Kelly McCreary. Photo: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images

WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 17 of Grey's Anatomy.

Kelly McCreary is all about using her platform for good.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the Grey's Anatomy actress, 39, opens up about the powerful mid-season 2-hour finale crossover event with Station 19 and why she's "grateful" for the opportunity to tell the stories of what it's like to be a Black girl in today's world.

"With these characters, we have the opportunity to really explore some other realities of being a Black woman in this country," McCreary says of the young Black girls who were victims of kidnapping and potential sex-trafficking in Thursday's episode of the ABC medical drama.

"I'm really grateful that we have the opportunity to talk about the very particular ways in which Black girls and Black women are vulnerable or treated differently," she says. "We don't receive the same support in return."

"This storyline was an opportunity to go beyond the hospital see other ways in which that plays out," McCreary, who worked closely with the writer's room and the Black Girl Freedom Fund ahead of the episode, adds.

The Black Girl Freedom Fund aims to "support work that advances the well being of Black girls and their families, including work that centers and advances the power of Black girls through organizing, asset mapping, capacity-building, legal advocacy, and narrative work that seeks to shift structural violence enacted against Black girls," according to the organization's website.

"I was incredibly moved by Felicia Price's writing. I did say, 'This is awesome. I love that we're throwing a spotlight on this. While we have people's attention, let's give them an opportunity to investigate how we can better support Black women and girls and thriving and succeeding and finding joy and allowing them to just live and be fun,' " she continues. "So that's why I reached out to Black Girl Freedom Fund, and just get their permission to talk about them and what they're doing to ensure that we have the same opportunity that other people do."

greys anatomy
Grey's Anatomy. ABC

Actors and fans were quick to lend a clapping hand in support of the recognition.

Grey's actress Jaicy Elliot wrote: "Not only are Black girls disproportionately impacted by child sex trafficking, but they are also more likely to be criminalized for their exploitation."

Station 19 actress Barrett Doss tweeted: "We must do better for our Black women and girls. In King County, WA, where the show takes place, Black girls are less that 1% of the population, but they are 50% of all child sex trafficking survivors."

McCreary, who recently launched a satirical election podcast, Wednesday Morning, and serves as a board member for Equal Justice Society, admits to PEOPLE that while she's passionate about continuing her advocacy, it took her a while to get comfortable with vocalizing her support.

People's Choice Awards 2017 - Red Carpet
Kelly McCreary. Kevin Mazur/WireImage

"I don't really love putting myself out there all the time," she says. "And so doing that has kind of forced me out of that comfort zone to be like, 'This is not about me. This is not about self-promotion. This is not about look at how cool or pretty or whatever I am.' "

"I want to use my platform to do something for somebody else," she adds. "Because I am lucky to have a tremendous amount of privilege — with that comes a lot of responsibility to me.

And while McCreary admits that leaving her comfort zone can be "uncomfortable," it's made her "braver."

"I get so nervous, but getting past it is for a greater purpose than myself has expanded my comfort zone and helped me be a little bit braver and really experience that reality, that courage is not the absence of fear, but doing things even in the face of fear, doing what needs to be done in the face of fear," she says.

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