Wilmer Valderrama knows the importance of using his platform and voice to help his community. The NCIS actor continues to amplify and support the underrepresented -- not only as a Latinx star in Hollywood, but also as a founding member of organizations created to better the lives of others.
With a career spanning two decades, Valderrama, 40, tells ET's Kevin Frazier that people of color "have a major responsibility in this moment in time to continue to create images that our younger generation can look up and say, 'Hey, that's me or that looks like me.'"
"Now, more than ever, we need to inspire these roles," he notes. "We have to inspire and create awareness for other alternatives for young people. I'm excited that we're part of that small contribution…As people of color we can represent and be proud and move forward hand in hand, because this is gonna take all of us to really be on the same page."
And it's not just on screen that he is making a difference. In the wake of the 2016 election, Valderrama, along with America Ferrera and Ryan Piers Williams, created the organization Harness to connect people with frontline activists to share their authentic stories about what is happening in their community. The organization brings together artists and activists to form collaborations to educate, inspire and drive people to take action for social change.
"When this pandemic started, I felt very confused about what my role was as an activist and somebody who likes to show up where the conversation needs to be had," Valderrama shares. "I felt a little helpless and I had to do a little searching and figuring out what my role is in this moment, and it was just amplifying the voices."
Now, the trio has kicked off the Harness 2020 Census campaign, #BeCounted, in partnership with Stacey Abrams’ Fair Count and NowThis. With the support of major stars like Meryl Streep, Justin Timberlake, Eva Longoria, Joaquin Phoenix, and Kerry Washington, among others, the #BeCounted campaign is about the importance of filling out the 2020 Census.
"PSAs are not about hearing a talking head. It's about information that is not just vital, but it's critical for you to have and to share," Valderrama says. "To see the [artists] being passionate about the underrepresented communities, because our campaign is targeted to the underrepresented, the under-counted, and all those communities that have been left out of the conversation."
While it's great, Valderrama says, to have all these artists come together, "holding each other's hands and fighting for not just equality, but justice," he also makes it clear why the campaign is important.
"We have to be counted. The census is important for many reasons. The simplicity of it all is that [it determines] how one-point-something-trillion dollars get distributed among the most basic and most critical public services," he relays. "We need education, public service, medical, hospitals. And our communities need to have that inclusion. Knowing where everyone is and knowing the size of the community and who is who in that community also allows us to tailor our local and national governing. Who are those leaders that speak on behalf of the needs of the people. That is also very important."
"Among so many other things, you have to be counted. You can't be an invisible family. You can't be an invisible community," he continues. "At this point, we also have to understand where we all are. The next phase is we got to register to vote. If you're eligible to vote, you have to get out there. That same fire, that same passion, we have to take it to the polls."