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Taraji P. Henson: Finding 'Peace of Mind' means something different when you're Black

Addie Broyles
Austin 360
Taraji P. Henson was a featured speaker during SXSW Online on Wednesday, where she talked with the editor-in-chief of SELF magazine about mental health and entrepreneurship during the pandemic.

Taraji P. Henson turned 50 during the pandemic, but she wasn't sweating it.

The actor and founder of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, a mental health advocacy organization named after her father, explained that she poured her creativity into her brand and her passions during the pandemic. 

"I had time I would have never had if we didn't have this moment," she said during a South by Southwest conversation with Carolyn Kylstra, editor-in-chief of SELF magazine, on Wednesday afternoon as part of the virtual conference.

Henson's hit series, "Empire," ended last year after six seasons, but without the bang she would have preferred, where she could have showered the crew with surprises. 

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"The one thing I learned in this pandemic is acceptance and gratitude," she says.

"I want to age gracefully and have fun. I don’t want to fight it."

Her haircare line, TPH by Taraji P. Henson, has expanded, and she's launched a Facebook video series called "Peace of Mind," which she co-hosts with Tracie Jade, the executive director of her foundation that offers access to a network of "culturally competent therapists" who can address the specific mental health issues that people of color face. 

Taraji P. Henson, seen here at the 90th Academy Awards in 2018, wrapped her TV show "Empire" last year. She wants to try more directing, she said during SXSW Online on March 17.

"We have to break this down, because our people are suffering," Henson told Kylstra. "The trauma is so deep with us. We take on these titles like 'strong Black woman' and 'Black girl magic,' but it can be detrimental to our health. Generationally, we have been pushing through trauma, but we have to stop. At some point we have to deal with this trauma, at some point we have to talk about it." 

The show "demystifies" therapy, Henson said, by featuring conversations with willing patients and mental healthcare providers that, in some ways, model what a therapy session might look and sound like.

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"People think that just because celebrities have money that somehow our problems just go away, but 'More money, more problems' is right," she said. "Whatever problems you have, money amplifies them."

One example she gave: watching her adult son walk out the door in an time when she has seen racist violence against Black men. "Every time my son leaves the house, that triggers PTSD. That’s not good," she said. "Just knowing that you’re not alone, it takes so much pressure off."

The pandemic has helped her see what she can’t control, which allows her to focus on what she can. "I ask myself, 'Am I growing or am I staying stuck in this moment?' I have to practice this every day." 

The foundation is currently raising money to offer low-cost therapy and create more content like "Peace of Mind" so more people can hear the key message: "There's no magic potion. Your first relationship is with yourself."

Henson said that with "Empire" behind her, she hopes to do more directing, something she got to do a little on the show that also starred Terrence Howard. "The best part of directing was casting. If you cast right, your job is easy."

Through her acting, directing and entrepreneurial projects, Henson said she hopes all of her work helps "keep society on the right side of history."

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