Unbound Stories: Taraji P. Henson
With many memorable roles to her credit, Taraji P. Henson is one of the most versatile actors of our time. Her personal story of persistence, courage, and philanthropy makes her someone to admire and respect.
In 1995, as a recent Howard University graduate, Taraji pulled together $700 and moved with her young son to Los Angeles to follow her dream of becoming a star. Encouraged by her father to make the move, she left behind an abusive relationship with her son’s father. It was not easy, but she hustled, flowed, and stayed the course. She is now known as an Executive Producer, a Director, a Golden Globe winner, and an Oscar nominee. Who says dreams don’t come true?
For 20 years, Taraji has lit up both small and big screens with vulnerability, charm, beauty, confidence, tenacity, and mama bear fierceness. Her rise to fame, and entrance into philanthropy, is a masterclass on knowing your worth and turning what others would see as liabilities into personal superpowers.
Taraji’s strength and commitment to philanthropy lie in her strong family values. She always remained close to her father, Boris L. Henson, who struggled for years with untreated mental health conditions. Upon returning from Vietnam, he suffered from significant bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), unemployment, and homelessness. She encouraged him to seek help, just as fiercely as he emboldened her to follow her passion. Once he finally received the services he needed, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Taraji also experienced mental health issues, including anxiety and depression following her son’s father’s violent death, and the unexpected death of her beloved father. Based on her grueling search for assistance, she recognized the systemic lack of racial diversity in psychotherapy. Both deaths were extremely hard on Taraji and her small family, and her search for a therapist proved difficult. Especially challenging was that her son could not identify with therapists who “didn’t look like him.” They eventually found the support they needed, but the experience was uncomfortably close to her father’s struggles in seeking excellent, culturally-relevant mental health services.
These experiences have led to Taraji’s most prominent role yet — creating the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF). Launched in August 2018 and named after her father, BLHF seeks to lessen the stigma of mental illness and trauma in the Black community. The current COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the mental strain on Black families. It has made connecting with a therapist even more complicated and laid bare the systemic racism that Black families must deal with to access healthcare.
Additionally, BLHF uses Taraji’s high-profile platform to bring awareness to the traumatic effects of tensions between the police and communities of color across America. The repeated assaults on Black people during this already emotionally and physically isolating time make Taraji’s efforts both timely and laudable.
With assets of nearly $7,500,000 and an income of about $400,000 at hand, BLHF has helped over 1500 people since the beginning of March 2020 by providing access to over 500 therapists experienced in psychotherapy and being in Black bodies.
BLHF focuses on three issues:
- Providing mental health services for high schools with predominantly Black students
- Increasing the number of Black therapists who provide more culturally sensitive and relevant therapy to Black people seeking support services
- Reducing the recidivism rate in prisons
Taraji kept it moving through the hard times, but she also realized she needed help and went looking for it. Everyone is not fortunate enough to have the finances or the self-awareness to do the same. Had she not asked for help, she may not have discovered her role as an advocate in this space. I commend Taraji for her efforts in providing such an essential resource to an underserved and overlooked community.
Please visit www.borislhensonfoundation.org to learn more about the work of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation. If you are looking for support, the BLHF Resource Guide has amassed an expansive list with contact information of mental health professionals, clinics, nonprofits organizations, and support groups nationwide providing services for the Black community.
To donate, visit their website or text NOSTIGMA to 707070.