Taraji P. Henson to Take on Mental Health, Health Disparities at The Root Institute [Updated]

Actress and Mental Health Advocate Taraji P. Henson
Actress and Mental Health Advocate Taraji P. Henson
Photo: Erik Umphery Courtesy of The Lede Company

The Root Institute, a virtual convening around the future of Black America in 2020 and beyond, features some pretty heavy hitters—from Stacey Abrams to Ava DuVernay to Lee Daniels—examining politics, art and activism, but what about the health of our minds?


We have just the speaker for that.

During week three of The Root Institute, we will focus on Health and Wellness, featuring mental health advocate and Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson in conversation with The Root’s Editor-in-Chief Danielle Belton, who is also a mental health advocate.

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The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, created by the actress, has the goal of eradicating “the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community” by spreading awareness and providing support. Previously on The Root, Henson said of mental health and the Black community:

“We’re dealing with so much trauma as a community,” she continued, with passion on her breath and hope in her eyes. “The effects of slavery are still ever-present and daunting. Henson’s hope is that the Black community comes to a place where they realize that it’s OK to seek help and it’s OK to not be OK. We live in a society where it’s impossible to be OK all the time.”

In short: “We’ve got to keep going,” says Henson. “We have to normalize the conversations we have around mental illness because it’s a very real part of our community.”

A subject near and dear to Belton’s heart (Belton was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and anxiety in 2005 and writes about it extensively in her column “Antisocial” on The Root), The Root’s EIC hopes this conversation will help those watching The Root Institute’s virtual convening, demonstrating that no one should suffer in silence.

“When I was at my worst I thought that would be all there was,” said Belton. “I didn’t know anyone living openly with my disease, let alone surviving and thriving. Part of the reason why I’m so open with my illness is to demonstrate to others who are in my past position that you can find the right treatment, you can get better, you can achieve your dreams. You just need the right support and the desire to stick with it, to stick with us in society, even at the darkest moments.”


Ready to hear what Henson has to say? Subscribe now for updates and be the first to hear when new videos appear for The Root Institute and check out our full schedule of talks below.

Week 1—Politics and Voter Protection: Opening the convening on Tuesday, Aug. 4 is a one-on-one between Belton and possible Joe Biden vice presidential pick Stacey Abrams, followed by a Q&A with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and The Root’s video producer and host, Felice León. Then, on Thursday, Aug. 6, The Root Institute will feature a panel on voter protection, politics and the 2020 race with Glynda Carr of Higher Heights, Judith Browne Dianis of Advancement Project and Rashad Robinson of Color of Change.


Week 2—The Intersection of Art with Entertainment and Culture: Opening on Tuesday, Aug. 11 with a Q&A between Belton and award-winning director Ava DuVernay, and later, a one-on-one between The Root’s entertainment writer Tonja Stidhum and Empire creator, provocative filmmaker Lee Daniels. Then on Thursday, Aug. 13, we’ll host two panels—one on Black Joy led by Very Smart Brothas Senior Editor Panama Jackson featuring dancers Chloe and Maud Arnold, The Root’s Michael Harriot and TV writer Phil Augusta Jackson; and a second on arts power to create change hosted by Stidhum with singer Aloe Blacc, Color of Change’s Arisha Hatch and more.

Week 3—Health and Wellness: On Tuesday, Aug. 18, we will feature our one-on-one with Henson and Belton on mental health. This will be followed by on Thursday, Aug. 20 with a panel on health disparities featuring Planned Parenthood’s Alexis McGill Johnson, Joy Altimare of EHE Health and Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, moderated by The Glow Up’s managing editor, Maiysha Kai.


Week 4—Social Justice: Wrapping up the convening in its final week is Tarana Burke in conversation with The Glow Up’s Kai on Tuesday, Aug. 25th, followed by a pair of Thursday, Aug. 27 panels featuring author Darnell Moore, president of the National Black Justice Coalition David Johns and more, moderated by communications expert Chelsea Fuller of Blackbird, and a second panel on diversity in corporate American, featuring diversity and inclusion experts author Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Netflix’s Verna Myers and Reggie Van Lee of the Carlyle Group, hosted by G/O Media’s head of multicultural sales, Michael Clark.

Ready for these impactful conversations and more? Sign up today!

Updated: 7/30/20, 7:10 a.m. EDT: Chase Consumer Bank CEO Thasunda Duckett, originally a speaker at The Root Institute, had to decline due to a scheduling conflict.