(October 11, 2020, JNS Wire)
The Ruderman Family Foundation, an international leader in disability inclusion, is proud to announce actress, filmmaker, activist and entrepreneur Taraji P. Henson as the recipient of its Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion, in recognition of her advocacy and leadership in addressing mental health.
Henson has been open and outspoken about her own mental health living with depression and anxiety. In 2018, she founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named after her father who experienced mental health issues after serving in Vietnam, to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness in the African American community.
“I am so honored to receive the 2020 Morton E. Ruderman Award from the Ruderman Family Foundation, who are leaders in advocating for the rights of people with disabilities across society,” said Henson, in a video recording acknowledging the award. “Like the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, they also recognize the impact that mental illness can have on a person, on a family, on a community. Together, we will work to create change, one heart, one mind at a time.”
Henson’s work addresses the intersection between disability inclusion and other areas of civil rights and social justice. One in five Americans live with mental illness, and according to the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, African Americans are the least likely population to seek treatment. Earlier this year through her Foundation, Henson launched a campaign to assist African Americans, a demographic disproportionately affected by COVID-19, access to free virtual therapy during the pandemic.
“As society continues to navigate through an incredibly tumultuous 2020, with a global pandemic and continued racial inequality issues, the conversation around mental health has arguably not been more important in decades,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “When role models and influencers like Taraji are so vocal about their own experiences with mental illness, it has the potential to inspire millions of people to accept their own mental health issues and find healthy ways to address them. But it hasn’t just been words with Taraji, she took action. The work that her Foundation undergoes is tremendously important. We need more people like Taraji to continue to eliminate the stigma around mental health across all our communities in America and we’re honored to be awarding her our Morton E. Ruderman Award this year.”
In 1996, Henson moved to Los Angeles from Washington, DC with her son to pursue a career in acting. After landing recurrent roles in TV sitcoms like Smart Guy and Sister Sister, Henson starred in John Singleton’s feature film Baby Boy, which was followed up by another leading role in the motion picture Hustle & Flow.
Henson was eventually nominated for a Screen Actors Guild and an Academy Award for her critically acclaimed performance alongside Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. After ensuing roles in films such as The Family That Preys, I Can Do Bad All by Myself, Think Like a Man and No Good Deed, in 2015 Henson returned to television with a starring role in Empire, a worldwide hit that earned Henson a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations for Lead Actress in a Drama. Henson also starred in Hidden Figures in 2016, Proud Mary and Acrimony in 2018 and What Men Want in 2019.
The award, now in its seventh year, was named after Morton E. Ruderman, a founder of the Ruderman Family Foundation. A successful entrepreneur, mentor and proud family man, he saw his success as the result of help he received from others and was therefore passionate about providing opportunities for others — including assisting many people in becoming independent and successful in business. In previous years, the award has gone to advocates from several sectors of society, including filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, decorated Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin, the driving force behind the Americans with Disability Act, former United States Senator Tom Harkin, disability self-advocate Ari Ne’eman and Harvard Professor Dr. Michael Stein.