Actress Taraji P. Henson announced that her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF) will hold a two-day summit “to exchange ideas around normalizing the conversation of mental illness in the African-American community.” The first “Can We Talk?” Conference and Benefit Dinner will take place in Washington, D.C., on June 7-9, People reports.
The Empire star, who has been a vocal advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness, has been candid about her own mental health challenges, acknowledging having dealt with bouts of depression and anxiety. Henson established the foundation—named for her father, Boris Lawrence Henson, who came home from the Vietnam War with mental health problems—in 2018.
“We’re walking around broken, wounded and hurt, and we don’t think it’s okay to talk about it,” she recently told Variety. “We don’t talk about it at home. It’s shunned. It’s something that makes you look weak. We’re told to pray it away. Everyone was always asking me, ‘Do you have a charity?’ Well, dammit, this is going to be my calling, because I’m sick of this. People are killing themselves. People are numbing out on drugs. Not everything is fixed with a pill.”
The forum in June will feature panel discussions with therapists, medical and policy experts, community-organization representatives, and other professionals and influencers who can push the conversation deeper into spaces where action can happen. Organizers are also making it a point to address the need to increase resources for inner city youth, a particularly vulnerable community. Dr. Altha J. Stewart, the first African-American to be named president of the American Psychiatric Association, will deliver the keynote address.
Henson and BLHF are also aiming to raise $500,000 through the benefit dinner June 7, the first evening of the conference. Proceeds will go towards helping first-timers enter into professional therapy.
“You can talk to your friends, but you need a professional who can give you exercises,” Henson said. “So that when you’re on the ledge, you have things to say to yourself that will get you off that ledge and past your weakest moments.”
Additional guest speakers and performances will be announced soon.
Correction: May 11, 2019, 12:49 a.m. ET: Dr. Altha Stewart is the first African-American president of the APA but not the first female president. The story has been updated to reflect that change.
Correction: Sept. 19, 2019, 7:22 p.m. ET: This story has been edited to remove unattributed text and to add fuller sourcing.