Da’Vinchi wasn’t ready for BMF to blow up as quickly as it did. The series, returning in its second season this week, was a massive hit for Starz. The Brooklyn-born actor’s breakout role as Terry “Southwest T” Flenory, one of the two Flenory brothers from southwest Detroit who built one of the most influential crime families in the country in the ’80s, came after turns on Grown-ish and All American. Such a high-profile part has made him a rising star fans should look out for, but the sudden fame has made him feel vulnerable.

“I was not bred to play ball on this level,” Da’Vinchi says. “It fucks with you and then sometimes it’s a lonely feeling because you don’t know who to trust. It’s just a whole new world at every level.” That strangeness compounded the unprocessed trauma of his childhood. Da’Vinchi’s family struggled financially when he was growing up, which left them in a constant fight for survival that has carried into adulthood. The actor, born Abraham D. Juste, tells Complex that he’s no stranger to the street life he’s portraying on the screen.

Da’Vinchi was born in Brooklyn, to Haitian parents, and when he was younger, he was always getting into trouble and having to conceal his background to avoid getting picked on by other kids. “Whenever you were a kid and your parents were from a different country, you’re automatically an African booty scratcher, you’re just a foreigner,” he says. “You’re fresh off the boat and they just gravitated towards picking on the foreign kids.” But the most destabilizing event of his younger years was the shooting death of his cousin, which triggered the actor’s big brother into a self-destructive spiral. Witnessing the effects that gun violence had on his family made Da’Vinchi realize the impact that mental health access could have on people who come from environments like his and the one on his show. 

“I’m here to speak on behalf of the work that I do just so I can explain I’m not trying to promote this violence,” Da’Vinchi says. “I would never try to do that because I come from that environment. I would never promote something that’s going to just kill us.” He and his team are in the process of creating a mental health tour for students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other institutions. The actor has also come up with tools and a self-care routine to help him navigate his own anxiety.

In addition to therapy, he also practices self-care by limiting his phone usage (he does 30 minutes phone-free each morning upon waking up), he exercises, listens to motivational content, does guided meditation for anxiety, says positive affirmations, and prays for five minutes a day. Da’Vinchi opened up to Complex about his struggles with mental health, his family’s story, and why he believes using his platform to help others is his life’s true purpose. Read our conversation, edited for length and clarity, below.