Taraji P. Henson is opening up her closet for a good cause.
The “Empire” star celebrated the launch of The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, her nonprofit organization, on Saturday by inviting guests to purchase her personal dresses, shoes and purses in a special Los Angeles fundraising event. The foundation, named after Henson’s late father, focuses on erasing the stigma surrounding mental health issues, particularly in the African American community.
The cause is personal to Henson, whose son struggled with mental health after his father was murdered in 2003 and Henson’s father died two years later. When she started looking for a psychiatrist for her son, wanting “someone that he could trust, someone that looks like him and could understand his struggle,” she said it was very difficult because “they wouldn’t be African American and it wouldn’t get anything accomplished because he felt guilty for the things he was saying.”
“It was like looking for a unicorn, and the reason that happens is because we don’t talk about it in our community; it’s taboo, it’s looked upon as a weakness or we’re demonized for expressing rage for traumas we’ve been through,” Henson told Variety. “I have a lot of white friends and that’s what got me going. They say, ‘You don’t talk to anybody? Girl, I’m going to see my shrink every Thursday at 3 o’clock.’ So I was like why don’t we do that in our community?”
The star also pointed out the need for the cause to have a famous face attached, as she said there’s “the misconception about celebrities that we have it all together and we’re perfect and we’re not. Our kids aren’t perfect, we’re suffering and struggling just like the regular person and money doesn’t help. I thank God I can pay for the psychiatry bill but it doesn’t necessarily take away the problems.”
Later on in her speech inside the event, Henson revealed that she has also sought mental health treatment and sees a psychiatrist herself.
“I’m here to tell you that when they tell cut and the cameras go away, I go home to real problems just like everybody else,” she said, adding that she wanted to be open about her struggles so “people go, “Oh wow she’s going through it? Well I’m alright then.”
The money raised from the event, dubbed Taraji’s Boutique of Hope, marked the foundation’s first mission: bringing art to the bathrooms of inner city schools to help combat depression, bullying and suicide. Henson explains that this initiative — a partnership with artist Cierra Lynn — is because school bathrooms are “where fights happened, jumps, that’s where you got bullied because the teachers weren’t in there, so I thought that was a great thing to do to flip it. You go there to get your head together and instead of seeing hate stuff or whatever madness kids put in there, we decided to turn it into art.”
Jenifer Lewis, Lisa Vidal and John Singleton were also in attendance at the event, with Lewis joking that she and Henson are close friends because Lewis was the “original Cookie,” the character Henson plays on “Empire.” The “Black-ish” star, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 25 years ago, said that fighting against the stigma of mental illness has become an important cause for her.
“We are as sick as our secrets and it’s time for people to come together, to reach out to those who are hiding in dark rooms, reach out to those who are afraid to take the next step, reach out to those who want to be better and don’t know how to,” Lewis said.