Taraji P. Henson Wants to Humanize Black Women

The actress teamed up with Kate Spade to build mental wellness pods on college campuses.

Taraji P. Henson Interview

Courtesy of Kate Spade New York

Taraji P. Henson wants to celebrate the strength of Black women, but not if it comes at the expense of their humanity. While the actress believes in the power of the community, she knows from firsthand experience that Black women's mental health is often not taken seriously, and she's on a mission to change that.

"One myth is that we're strong and magical, Black girl magic," Henson explains to InStyle. "I get it, I understand it's a celebration of being a Black woman, but it dehumanizes us. I think we need to lay off those terms a little bit and [for] people to actually see us as humans. We suffer, we have trauma, we have generational trauma that has not even been dealt with. So, just see us as humans. See our tears, we cry, too."

After witnessing a lack of mental health resources in Black and Brown communities, Henson created The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF) in 2018 to "to help Brown and Black communities where we're not talked about." It was initially for the benefit of her and her son Marcell Johnson, but she quickly realized how badly its services were needed by others.

"Once I realized how difficult it was to pinpoint and find a therapist of color or a therapist who was culturally competent — I can afford a therapist at $350 a pop, but what about a whole community that can't?" she says. "We're not considered in those conversations and that part of mental healthcare. That's when I decided to do something about it."

Taraji P. Henson Interview

Courtesy of Marvin Bowser Photography

And this spring, Henson is taking her efforts one step further by partnering with Kate Spade New York and HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to make mental health resources more accessible for young Black women in college struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression. At the beginning of this month, the brands announced that She Care Wellness Pods would be installed at universities across the country, starting with Alabama State University. The goal of the pods are to provide mental health resources as well as a designated safe haven for 25,000 Black women.

As an alum from an HBCU herself, Henson was inspired to help young Black women, especially those with mental health challenges in order to diminish the college dropout rate (which has been significantly impacted by poor mental health, according to several studies including one from the National Library of Medicine). In addition to keeping kids in school, Henson is also on a mission to teach these women about the challenges awaiting them in the real world after they graduate.

"We prepare these young women to get their diplomas and degrees, but we're not preparing them," Henson explains. "They have all these dreams, because I was once in school and I was like, 'Oh my god, once I get my degree, I'm going to go out into the world, I'm going to make a whole bunch of money.' But no one was telling me about the disparity in the job and the pay. No one is telling me about the disparity in healthcare. We want to prepare these women for everything to expect in the world or what they don't even expect in the real world."

Taraji P. Henson Interview

Courtesy of Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation.

After working with the Hollywood superstar to create its Social Impact Council in 2022, Kate Spade wanted to continue working with Henson. The brand and Henson's mutual passion for mental wellness made the partnership a perfect match. Liz Frazer, Kate Spade's chief executive officer and brand president, tells InStyle that BLHF is "an organization who shares our belief in the power of joy and commitment to addressing the vital role that a woman and girl’s mental health plays in her life and her empowerment journey."

"Over the past 10 years, we have seen firsthand how important physical space and culturally competent care is to women and girls accessing mental health support," Frazer adds. "Our partnership with BLHF and the She Care Wellness Pods is the next evolution of our work together and we are looking forward to building on this relationship.”

Taraji P. Henson Interview

Courtesy of Marvin Bowser Photography

The pods, which have been stylishly furnished to provide a comforting environment for students, will offer free virtual and in-person therapy sessions, psychoeducation classes, guided meditation and yoga, dance therapy, workshops, and designated silent places for rest. According to Kate Spade's Senior Director of Social Impact Taryn Bird, the program will roll out on four HBCU campuses over the next two years in the hopes of giving 25,000 Black women a place of solace and mental health resources. Last Friday, Henson attended the official ribbon cutting ceremony at Alabama State University, where the pods are now open to students.

"We've done such a great job with the foundation, since we launched in 2018, I'm seeing more people talk about [mental health] in a way that was never talked about before in all communities, to be quite honest, but especially in Black and Brown communities," Henson says. "I have shared and been open with my struggles because I feel like I know people are suffering in silence. And I feel like the more we talk about it, the more people feel they're not alone."

Related Articles