Congratulations are in order to Empire star, Taraji P. Henson, as she was honored on Friday (April 5) at Variety’s Power of Women New York, which was presented by Lifetime.
The 48-year-old actress was honored for her work with the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation that she founded to shed light on the history and stigma of mental health in the Black community
“Our vision is to eradicate the stigma around mental health in the Black community by breaking the silence and breaking a cycle of shame. We were taught to hold our problems close to the vest out of fear of being labeled and further demonized as weak, or inadequate,” Henson shared through tears.
“My dad is one of the reasons I started this foundation, and my son, and my neighbor, and my friends, my community, our children is why I keep going,” she said.
Taraji’s father experienced mental illness after returning from his tour of duty in Vietnam.
Taraji also informed the audience that the history of mental illness for Black people in America, “stretches all the way back 400 years, 15 million people, and an ocean that holds the stories.”
Henson discussed how the roles that she has played throughout her career have focused a spotlight on the experiences of Black women during Jim Crow segregation. She referenced her Hidden Figures character, Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who helped launch the first man in space. She mentioned her Catana Starks, the character she played in From The Rough, who was the first Black woman to coach a college men’s golf team.
Finally, she brought up her latest role as Ann Atwater, an advocate for school desegregation. The film, Best of Enemies, was released on Friday April 5.
“She kept going,” the actress said of each of the women she’s played. “Four hundred years running through the veins. And we keep going.”
Henson concluded, “My biggest dream is to see little black and brown people play in the sun, splash in the ocean, for generations to come, and know that the power of women will always be waiting at the shores to receive them.”
Well said, Taraji. We look forward to following her breakthrough work in mental health.