Actress Taraji P. Henson announced that her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF) will host a two-day mental health summit to help normalize mental health conversations in the black community. The inaugural “Can We Talk?” conference and benefit dinner will take place on June 7-9 in Washington, D.C.
The Empire star has been a vocal advocate for de-stigmatizing mental health, and has been equally open about her own struggles with depression and anxiety. Henson founded her nonprofit in 2018, a namesake for her father Boris Lawrence Henson, who struggled with mental health after his active duty service in the Vietnam War.
“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 conference promises to engage attendees with panel discussions, notable mental health experts, policy-makers and leaders pushing the conversation deeper into spaces of action. They’re also making it a point to include resources to address inner city youth, a particularly vulnerable community. The keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Altha J. Stewart, the first African-American to be named President of the American Psychiatric Association.
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: 5/11/2019, 12:49 AM 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.