"The Walking Dead" star Danai Gurira presses for fans to think globally

Danai Gurira stops by the Johnson & Johnson “Donate a Photo” booth at Global Citizen Festival in New York on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, to help fight HIV/AIDS.

Diane Bondareff/Invision

For “The Walking Dead” star Danai Gurira, part of keeping a positive outlook in today’s difficult world means making sure she’s part of the solution, not part of the problem. 

That means taking on projects like the video she co-wrote about creating sustainable communities in parts of Africa that have been ravaged by HIV/AIDS. The video debuted at last month’s Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. The actress and Tony-nominated playwright spoke to CBS News about her work raising awareness and how she stops the barrage of bad news from getting her down.

How was the Global Citizen Festival this year?

Rihanna was headlining! It’s such an important thing -- if you don’t know about it, you really should. It really allows us to start to promote global citizenship which, as we know, the world is getting smaller and smaller and it’s important to know about the world in ways that are inclusive and aware.

It’s important to care about people around the world and understand what is occurring and what challenges we still face as a global community and to contribute your voice and your actions. So what I love about the Global Citizen Organization as a whole is that it promotes global citizenship, allowing individuals from whatever walk of life to connect with the larger human reality around the world.

What about the video you worked on that’s part of the Global Citizen event?

Johnson & Johnson do a lot of work around health and global health challenges -- which is deeply important to me -- and specifically they work with issues surrounding the HIV and the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. I was born in the United States to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe, so of course this issue is something that I’m deeply and intricately aware of.

I was raised there in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the epidemic first hit, and definitely it’s far more manageable now but it’s still a large health crisis. The great thing is that more drugs are very accessible, as we know, allowing for much more productive lives to be lived, but it has really affected the status of life in communities. I definitely think the Africans themselves have risen to the challenges and handled them in various intricate and very powerful ways. Nyumbani Village is a particular organization that deals very specifically with children that have been infected with HIV and AIDS in Kenya.


Danai Gurira speaks onstage at the 2016 Global Citizen Festival In Central Park on September 24, 2016 in New York City.

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The beauty of Nyumbani is that it restructures homes for children that have been affected in this way through its village, which is really a self-sustaining community that allows the children to be a part of the actual homestead again and to go to school to learn different trades. A number of them get to actually go to universities. And it’s also giving them access to a lot of resources and medications, so it’s a really powerful model for a sort of holistic fight against this illness that must be taken in order to really move past it and win the war against it, which is why I think it’s a very important organization to promote.

In a more general sense, how do you break through to people to get a message across about something that’s happening so far from where they live? How do you get Americans’ attention about issues like this?

I mean, to me, the part that is innate to me and that I believe can be very powerful is storytelling. The whole goal of my first play was to bring the vivid experience and intricate humanity of what would otherwise be dismissed as a statistic to the western counterpart of the individual. So we created two women, one in Zimbabwe and one in South Central L.A., and we brought their stories out in living color, and I think that to me was very powerful. If theater is done well, if storytelling is done well in whatever realm, people will start watching the story one way and will end the story in another way.

You can actually, I think, intertwine the humanity of another individual with that of someone seemingly far away and seemingly other to you. That’s always the goal of every story I tell.

Considering all that’s been going on in the world and at home -- what’s in the news every day -- how do you maintain a positive outlook and keep going?

You what I think a lot about is all the things that were experienced by women or people who looked just like me a hundred years ago. And I think about what they had to do for me to experience the liberties I experience now. It be very distracting and very upsetting, the outrageous things that are happening, but at the same time we have to keep going because people were in darker hours than ours, and they kept going so that I could experience what I experience today and that I could have the liberties I have. And then I must shore up those liberties and the gains that they made, often costing them their lives. So it’s very important to me that I remain engaged. 

Nyumbani Means Home. by spring on YouTube