Taraji P. Henson to headline Juneteenth celebration

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

CULVER CITY — Positive mental health is personal to award-winning actress Taraji P. Henson.

In 2018, Henson and her best friend Tracie Jade Jenkins founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to honor the legacy of her father, who battled untreated mental health issues after returning from the Vietnam War.

Henson and Jenkins were motivated by their own experiences and the glaring absence of culturally relevant mental health support. The two established the foundation to destigmatize mental health within the Black community and enhance accessibility.

On June 22, from 1-5 p.m., Henson will headline  a Juneteenth celebration honoring freedom and unity at the Westfield Culver City, 6000 Sepulveda Blvd.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, marks the date, June 19, 1865, when the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed finally reached Galveston Texas, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the law in 1863 abolishing slavery.

The Juneteenth story time and book signing event with Henson is associated with Malik Books, a Black-owned, independent bookstore. Henson will read from and sign her debut children’s picture book, “You Can Be A Good Friend (No Matter What!)” at 3 p.m. The book will be available for purchase .  

The book is inspired by Henson’s desire to teach children to appreciate differences and emphasize that their uniqueness is special. Henson’s ‘Around The Way Girl: A Memoir,’ was co-authored by New York Times bestselling author Denene Millner.

“Mental health struggles can start even in childhood, and often, it begins with being bullied,” said Henson, who was a substitute teacher before she became an actress. “This book isn’t just about bullying though, it’s about how children all have something different about them and being different is what makes them oh so very special.”

 Henson, 53, an Academy Award nominee who won a Golden Globe Award, received multiple Emmy nominations, and became the first Black woman to win a Critics Choice Television Award for her portrayal of Cookie Lyon on the hit series “Empire,” said the book, “Is for kids who feel different.”

This book is for parents who want their kids to accept differences,” said Henson, whose credits include “Hidden Figures,” “The Color Purple,” “Hustle & Flow,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the Peacock’s limited series, “Fight Night,” and more. “This book is for the kids and families who’ve encountered hard times because of differences. I can’t wait to see the many conversations my book starts in homes and classrooms everywhere.”

Henson, who dedicated the book to her 100-year-old grandmother, said she wrote the tome to show kids how to develop empathy and show grace.

The book introduces a little girl named TJ to the world. Henson said TJ is the little girl inside of her whom she wanted to give “A voice.”

“You control the situations you’re in,” Henson said. “You get to choose how you handle the situation. No one can steal your dreams. No one can steal your identity. In the book, she tries to blend in. She didn’t feel right in her skin. She decides to stand up for herself by being herself.”

 In the back of the book are practical tools that parents can use should they find out their child has been bullied in school.

The Juneteenth event will open with a performance by African Drummers. There also will be live children’s performances, music, poetry and children’s activities followed by a panel discussion at 2 p.m. in collaboration with the Sibley Firm.

“This celebration represents more than just an occasion,” said Christopher Sibley, president of the Sibley Firm. “It presents an opportunity for us to unite as a community and contemplate our collective history.” 

CNN Legal Analyst Areva Martin will moderate the panel, including Culver City MayorYasmine-ImaniMcMorrin, mental health expertWendell James and Malcolm Mays, author of “Power Book III: Raising Kanan.”

“Juneteenth has become such a significant holiday and important moment for the culture and the community,” said Martin, an award-winning civil rights attorney, best-selling author, media personality, and president and founder of Special Needs Network. “This event centered around freedom and solidarity resonates with the work we have been doing to seek social justice and reparations for communities across America.  

“Taraji is a leader in the mental wellness space and I’m looking forward to a lively discussion and uplifting event that promotes healthy discourse and inspires our community while elevating the culture and bringing awareness to Black excellence throughout the Los Angeles region.”

“We are thrilled to host this incredible event that celebrates the rich history of Juneteenth while promoting unity within our community,” said Malik and April Muhammad, owners of Malik Books.

The NAACP Customer Service Learning Center of Westfield Culver City will be present to facilitate voter registration.

The American Red Cross, represented by Ingrid Green, will provide information on the sickle cell initiative and promote the upcoming blood drive scheduled for July 30.

Tickets are required and can be purchased at www.malikbooks.com.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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