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A Conversation with Taraji P. Henson | SXSW 2021

Carolyn Kylstra
Head of Special Projects and Digital Platforms at Google
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SXSW 2021
March 17, 2021, Online, Austin, USA
SXSW 2021
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About speakers

Carolyn Kylstra
Head of Special Projects and Digital Platforms at Google
Taraji P. Henson
Actress and singer at TPH Entertainment

Carolyn Kylstra is the Editor-in-Chief of SELF magazine. She led the transformation of the brand into a thriving and award-winning digital organization. Carolyn was honored on the 2018 Digiday Changemaker list, and named Folio Digital Editor of the Year. As a health and science journalist, she is passionate about helping people understand their bodies and feel their best, whatever wellness means to them.

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In October 2016, Henson released her New York Times bestselling novel “Around The Way Girl,” a memoir about her family and friends, her determination to make it to Hollywood and the importance of living your own truth. In Fall of 2018, she launched the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in honor of her late father. The organization will provide scholarships to African-American students majoring in mental health, offer mental health services to youth in urban schools and work to lower the recidivism rates of African-American men and women. Henson, along with her best friend and foundation partner, Tracie Jenkins, is currently co-hosting the Facebook Watch series PEACE OF MIND WITH TARAJI, which focuses on mental health issues. In early 2020, she launched her own haircare line, TPH by Taraji, which is exclusively sold at Target.

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Welcome to South by Southwest on-line. I'm Carolyn kylstra the editor-in-chief of Self Magazine and I am here with the ever. Fantastic exceptionally talented over the next 25 minutes. We're going to discuss strategies very own Empire and how she's built and expanded her brand all while, giving back to the community and becoming an entrepreneur arashi. Hi. Hi you. That's good to see you, too. How you doing? I'm hanging in there just turned 50 Global pandemic. How does that feel? I mean you know the one thing I learned from this pandemic and the

biggest thing that I got out of it is acceptance and gratitude. So I've accepted you ate and I just want to do it gracefully and have fun. I don't want to fight it because it's inevitable and so here we are at. So how are you how have you been getting through? I mean, I'm creative person. So I had to find an outlet for my creativity and I found that in my salon and I really just been enjoying myself as been giving me time to be creative with my brand, come up with great ways to expand it. I just have time that I know I would have never had it, but if we

didn't have this moment in time right now, I hear you. It's a way of looking on the bright side, trying to find a silver lining. Could we can't control, you know, if I am I growing or am I staying stuck in this moment? You know. So is literally like I said the biggest lesson I've learned and what I've gained from this is acceptance and gratitude because I have to Everyday nothing's changing. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. I see, I feel like there's definitely a, how do you have a gratitude practice? Like is that something that

you are doing intentionally and consciously pretty grateful person anyway. But whenever I feel myself trying to fight, what is I just stopped ground myself and I just look around and I stay right here and then now and nothing really for me to complain about and I think about people who are not in the situation, you know we just fed the homeless to the community Thanksgiving and Christmas. And so I just go back to places like that in my mind and I I ground myself in and what I should be grateful for.

I really have nothing to complain about with all that. I'd like to start by discussing the forest. African-American Community. What was your motivation behind? Starting at out of necessity, my son and myself needed counseling and try to look and I just, we couldn't because in order for someone to open up and share, you have to feel safe, you have to feel like I'm getting ready to show you the darkest part of me or the scariest part of me, and I need to feel safe and doing. So, in that state, number one that you understand,

you know what I mean? And I just couldn't find. I couldn't find that look like me. So, I called my friend to go with me and we talked about it and started talking and we came up with the fact that, you know, we don't talk about it at home. So I children don't know that this is something to even be interested when you go off to college to study and saw that we have to break this down because people are suffering from slavery. Like it's so deep with us, is so deep with

us and we take on these titles like Black woman in black girl magic out of a necessity to feel important but then the other outside of us take it on and state their magical. And in the end, it's detrimental to our house. You know what I mean? And it's things that we've been doing generationally, generationally pushing through trauma and we have to stop at some point we need to deal with this pain is so deep the way we normalize out. I was trauma. I mean, it's always been important. But do you feel like the

foundation's work has has taken on a new meeting this past year, right? When the panther make it before the pandemic, we were scrambling trying to figure out how we're going to raise money because we launched with a huge convention to be needed needed to make a big splash. And we wanted the industry to know that we were serious. And so we exhausted, all of the money that we re we didn't raise, like about almost half a million out first go-round, but once we did the convention, we exhausted, because we need to make a big splash and something

again, a reason to be thankful and gratitude because our foundation is driving now, just off of the word out and the way that it happened, like it's almost like I could have written this better. I couldn't plan this better, you know, the pandemic hit and then now, we need people are In dire need of help. Someone to talk to people. Depressed. Like they never been before, and we had this foundation. So we did the virtual fundraiser and we raise so much money that we were able to get five stations free, the people in the people of color. And what we

found were that most of the people that have decided, they were the first time trying therapy and they decided that there be works and they're sticking with it. I think it's like 95% of the people that signed up and 92. Would we found 93% were women 7% were men? So, we felt like we were failing the mess. Sometimes, they need to feel like a special place for them, so we carved out a special fundraiser in special Just For Men, and I mean the the the turnout was really astounding. I felt like we've accomplished something

because it's the men that really feel like they have to be fun and I find that across-the-board that's not even, you know, men are as inclined to to seek help like women because their whole thing is, I got to be strong. I got to be strong, you know. It's so wonderful that your foundation was there at a moment in time when it was so necessary. Yes. Make me feel so good at me all the time. Just like what is the Legacy? You know, what Legacy are you in? What if, you know, and that's real and I just, I'm just so grateful.

I am, I'm just grateful that I was chosen to do this. I mean, I could not plan this out or written this. It just literally came to me, you know, out of necessity. And that's a real story to tell, it's not like I signed my name on to a charity. Like this just came organically. Your life experiences. So I'm not topic you mentioned you show peace of mind which you want a co-host with your best friend. Tracy, J. Okay, what what I love about the show is and what I

love that we're showing that I think sometimes in our community, for sure or not, even in our communities, people think that just because the libraries have money and somehow our problem just go away or they don't realize You No More Money, More Problems, really, and whatever problems you have money to amplifies them a lot of time. And so, what I like is how we broke in the show. We put a face to what these mental issues, look like. So PTSD, a lot of people think that PTSD is from of that, you know, you had to serve in the war

or whatever, but we put a face to it, like, PTSD can be just you turning on the news or black Always scrolling on Instagram or social media is seeing another black person dying with? No weapon. Hands up that pcsd. So every time I leave the house, You know my heart palpitate, I'm afraid if you going to make it back you know what I mean? That's that's not good. That's not normal and you know I'm so happy we had Gabrielle Union on there as a rape victim scps that, you know, so we put spaces to think and we give

definition to things, we have celebrities come on first and then we have regular civilian people come on. So people see, there's a face so they don't feel like I'm alone. I remember when I first but I was afraid to say it, but once I said, good luck and everybody was, oh my God, I'm not alone and just knowing that you're not alone is It just takes so much pressure off and it eradicate, the fear, you know, because fear is what she keeps Us Secret. You know, you step outside that fear, that's when The Healing Begins. So

then we have a couple, the third session we have, I'm sorry, my allergies. The third session is on. We have a clinician, a psychiatrist or therapist come in and explain to us symptoms. We get they give you no tools. They give you exercises, things that you can do to get through. If you identify with, you know, what, we're dealing with on that episode and it's just very education. What I know is that I get to normalize what a session actually look like. When you go see your therapist, you sit down, you laugh? You cry and you leave billing a hundred times

better than you did when you came at me cuz now, whatever is bothering. Your therapist has worked it out with you gave me to now, you know, where to go and how to deal. And it was saying it and I think when people think about going to see a therapist they think sterile they think you know it's not like that and it's in the education of You know, if you don't find your therapist, the first time it's like a relationship. You just got to keep Working out is no magic potion is if you have to first

realize that your first relationship is with yourself. Right now is to talk about normalizing. Normalizing dealing with mental health issues, having Struggling with anxiety or depression, or PTSD or bipolar or what-have-you. The more people realize that other people are going to this to the more likely they are to seek treatment and it also your normalizing. What? That treatment looks like you're kind of demystifying at making it less scary. Do you get a lot of

positive feedback from your audience? I get chills when I look at the comments because you can see the AHA moments in the comments, like, oh my God, I didn't know. My daughter was hiding in the episode, like, see because we missed it because we don't talk about it. We we go get some stuff together. You need to get it together to get it together. You don't understand how complicated that is. So we don't know, the last time we missed it. We miss it, we just write him off as difficult, you know, teenagers. You know, they're just in the

teenagers but they're really having. They just don't even know how to express it. Because how do I say this? I've never seen anybody say this, before I feel alone, just they seem normal. This person seems normal, I can't, you know, so it's just, I just, I'm just so happy that I have a platform that the foundation was one thing, but now the show, we get it out. The great thing about the relationship with Facebook watches, that Facebook is free, but you're doing so much for the

community. As far as mental Wellness is Peyton chairman. And you know, it's supposed to be for women of color because you know, we have a lot of processes to do with our hair and it sometimes can feel like a chore and I really want to change. It should be a day. Spell chair from here to tow. I mean this is your brain, right? This is where everything starts to take care of it. Turn it into a spot to pull out all the products and make yourself feel good.

What inspired you to create your line and how did find the time for years, okay? Cuz I'm about healthy healthy hair and I was never a weaver or anything like that when I was on the East Coast but I did have process here, I have relaxer because you know, it's more humid there and I didn't even really learn to embrace my natural hair until I moved to LA and I started weaving and I was very concerned about Keeping my scalp clean and how do I keep my hair clean underneath all of this? And when I

search for something, I did no one cater to women who have a protective styles in there. Even if they had the product, they didn't explain that didn't go. So I started going walk then you know it doesn't exist, you create it, right? And I didn't even create it to make money. It was literally just for me. And I remember, I went on vacation with a girlfriend of mine, her daughter and they have protective styles and they kept complaining about if you stay outside. Well, let me think about that. Let me

give me a minute and I just started. I'm talking. This is How to unblock like that's when I started wearing weeds a lot out here in just about a product is education. Explain what I do to my hair and 141 chairs. There's no way I'll ever explain it like a product bottled up with education just because I have to spell it right? And if I'm not right I mean that make sense. It's like really smart way to think about what projects you want to get behind. What do you feel now?

That CPS has been around for a year. What are you hearing from? What's it like to hear the responses and are you okay, this is the deal. See I get to, you know, I watch, I told me that I have to pay attention to my right, and so I don't talk with them and I listen, I can take constructive criticism, I get it. You know, when I first want the line you got to remember, I made it for me, hoping that, you know, I'm staring. What I do. Every one that was the

initial thing to get out the scalp chair, the education. And this is how you this is, what I do to take care of my hair. Then once I did that because it was something for everybody. May not be able to use everything but there was something for some everyone to use in the line. And and this was my strategy to launch that first and then build on each individual group that needs you know, caring for and so now you know, I heard the my seat 4 sisters with a curly okuliar texture and that's what we rolled out. Next thing, you know, the high-intensity moisture lot, then I

have a five-year plan and we just going to keep going and, you know, every year it's every every rollout of new products is because we listen to the flower consumers on it, but the things to grow up on in the end. You know, everything might not work for my hair, but I'm trying I'm going to start with everybody. So, of course, we have we have to talk about Empire. The finale was cut short due to covid-19 after a while. It's time to let it should be legendary, you know, and not beat that horse over the head and I think we did a good job

over there and just what we were able to accomplish. You know, but bitter because I wasn't able to say a proper goodbye to my child, to my person, I bought these amazing Letterman sweaters for our senior year. I don't worry I got them all out. Everybody else have them. You understand? And that and we didn't get to finish like totally complete the story and that kind of hurt a little bit. Yeah, I can see that has really taken so many Milestones away from people and and those moments of connection,

how do you save connected with your, with your loved ones with your friends? During this time, everybody's movement. I'm surprised somebody hasn't made a song about grooming. I know, right now that like it's not as natural to just be people around. Like, is it something you have to schedule or even the people here that live in LA? Like we all get tested before we come see him cuz a lot of my friends who were in the industry so we can't risk the whole crew that is affected and I'm very

responsible, you know. So you know we you just is different because you just can't bring them out at the moment. Just come over. Really, I'll see you in here. There's no more. So you also announced your first directing projects under the company in which you also appear. I mean everyone on Empire all the producers and they don't sleep. So you know, why not. And I did it and I lunch. What did you like about it? You know the most part. The best part I liked about. What about it was interesting. Tell me more about that

will happen because if you can write your job is easy, you know? I just, you know, if they need help, I can put them back in and we got it you know, it and I noticed that the actors that I cast easy breezy, but they were actors that were already in place and you know it was like, okay. And then after so many takers, I gotta move on. Do you have the power of a casting? You're able to kind of directed by Ben some way and that's a big will always mean that. Anyway, that's what I do when I go into Empire cuz I knew our days will be easy because

he gets it, I get it, you know, if the chemistry is right, you know, he's perfectly that character. I like I just saw and I think I have that talent to be quite honest. Do what your skills are. I will go in on Monday dishes and I will be like why am I here? This is so out of respect for them wanting to see me but I was like and then look up and Do you think that you're going to move away from acting and spend more time behind the camera? You know, it depends. I feel like I have to love it but

I've done so many characters that it's like, it has to excite me at the challenge me, you know, and those cats don't scratch this don't come along at all. I really, really enjoyed producing as well. I have a lot of companies under my producer chat. So I'm just interested in leaving an incredible Legacy behind where that is. Inspiring those coming behind me, hopefully, making their Journey a little easier and something that can study, you know, pull up my performances and study, like I did the great before me.

Go to wrap up, you are a fantastic 50. More. More love. I mean, you know, any project that I'm doing is love, it's going to challenge us to think is going to challenge us to keep move in society. Keeping Society on the right side of History, all of us, we all need to hear, you know, we have history in this country that we can. It's always just sit down at the table and that's just what's happening. People aren't talkin and so hopefully I can help Well, thank you so much Taraji inspiring. As always to hear from you

until and to hear about what you've been working on. And I'm just we're such a huge fan, I really appreciate everything they care, stay safe.

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Carolyn Kylstra
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