She’s tough, talented and beautiful. She’s from the block, has been around the block, and proved every one of her naysayers on the block, wrong.
As an only child who was born to parents who split when she was young, she was named for the Swahili words for love and hope (Taraji Penda), and was raised by her mother in a rough area of southeastern Washington D.C. Her mom, Bernice Gordon, worked in a distribution center for a local department store while her dad, Boris, played another important role in her life.
“We never lived in the projects, but we were in the ‘hood, lower midle class, living paycheck to paycheck,” says Henson.
As a budding teenager in the mid 1980s in D.C., Henson had a front row seat of what would become known as the crack epidemic.
“I remember watching our 13-inch black and white TV, and the newscasters were talking about crack. I saw the destruction happen firsthand in families, on the streets and in the schools. No hope, no jobs. Despair.”
While many schools saw their after-school programs cut, the drama club at her school still stayed on. It became her refuge and her passion. “I loved acting; I loved everything about it,” she says.
But the Taraji you see now is not without her share of ups and downs.
When she applied to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, she was rejected. Then she went off to North Carolina A&T with dreams of being an electrical engineer, until she failed calculus. Then while in college, she became a single mom.
“But then I figured, so what? Deep down I knew I still wanted to be an actress. I had an English class in the theater arts building, I’d see all those crazy and eclectic people and I knew I was one of them.”
Then with the help of her father’s $700 donation he garnered from friends and family, she packed up her stuff and…