On Friday, June 7th, Taraji P Henson, actor and mental health advocate, testified in front of Congress to address mental health and the rising suicide rates of adolescents in the African-American community.
Henson spoke on behalf of her Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, whose mission is to "eradicate the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community."
Henson confidently leveraged her celebrity platform in front of the Congressional Black Caucus Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, stating, "I am using my celebrity and my voice to put a face to this."
During the emotional testimony, Henson disclosed her own struggles with depression and anxiety with the hope that through publicly talking about mental illness as a black woman, she will aid in changing the stigma of mental health in African-American communities.
"In the African-American community, we don't deal with mental health issues," said Henson during her testimony. "We don't even talk about it."
According to a study published by the NCBI in 2014 entitled African American Men and Women's Attitude Toward Mental Illness, Perceptions of Stigma, and Preferred Coping Behaviors, the 272 African-American participants were "not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, are very concerned about stigma associated with mental illness, and are somewhat open to seeking mental health services, but they prefer religious coping."
Henson pleaded for more mental health counselors and mental health education in response to the rising suicide rates. Data suggests that from 2007 to 2015, the U.S. ED estimate visits for suicide attempts/suicidal thoughts in children five to eighteen years old has doubled to 1.12 million per year.
In her testimony, Henson also pushes for more African-American mental health professional as just under 2% of the members of the American Psychological Association identify as African-American. The lack of African-American psychological professionals leads African-American patients to question whether their therapists are culturally competent in areas required to treat specific problems such as the effects of race-based trauma. Henson says in her testimony, that "when it was time to look for someone who I felt I could trust and my son could trust, it felt like looking for a unicorn."
Henson argues that mental illness and mental health should be implemented into school curriculums as education, similar to the implementation of physical education or sex education. Henson believes that "the more we talk about it, the more people will feel they can talk about it."
The testimony concluded with Henson expressing the importance of coming together to create positive change in the form of resources, education, and awareness. "We need each other. This is me reaching across the table, trying to lend a helping hand in the best way I can. We have to save our children."
After her testimony, Henson took to Instagram to share a synopsis of her experience in front of Congress. Her post, which has received over 640,000 likes to date, has over 12,000 comments of appreciation, words of encouragement, and people sharing their personal stories. Henson has even taken time to respond to those who have commented on her post to share their own experiences with losing loved ones to suicide or dealing with mental illness.
By coming forward as a voice for this issue, Henson has created a space for people to use their own voices to tell their stories.
We have seen it before, celebrities using their platforms and influence to bring awareness to issues that are near and dear to their hearts: Angelina Jolie and breast cancer, Miley Cyrus and youth homelessness, Blake Lively and child pornography, and now Taraji P Henson and mental illness.
Thankfully, every time a celebrity comes forward to step outside of their "lane" and use their star-power and reach as fuel for a movement, it works. Hopefully, Taraji P Henson's testimony will do the same, and, if the reaction to her Instagram post is any indication, then we are headed in the right direction.
When their frustration with current fabric care options had fashionistas Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd worn out, the two entrepreneurs made it their mission to start a new niche and launch their very own at-home, eco-friendly laundry detergent line.
With a mission of turning an everyday domestic chore into a luxurious experience, these entrepreneurs not only conjured up an idea for an unconventional product line, but they successfully built their business while turning down the offer of every venture capitalist to knock on their door.
Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd co-founded The Laundress in 2004 after dealing with their own personal frustrations with limited clothing care options. Whiting, having worked at Ralph Lauren in design and Boyd having worked at Chanel in corporate sales, soon accumulated a stylish wardrobe of designer pieces as perks of their jobs in the fashion industry. However, the duo quickly realized that the maintenance required for upkeeping these items were far from adequate. Laundry products on the market at the time did not cater to delicate textures and fabrics such as tweed blazers, cable-knit cashmere and silk blouses. Taking their clothing to the dry cleaners also proved hopeless as their clothing would often come back with stains or even be ruined despite the overload of chemicals used to clean them. With nowhere left to turn, Whiting and Boyd were determined to create their own laundry solutions designed for specific fabrics.
Not only did the entrepreneurs develop the business expertise needed to finally begin their own company, but they also shared the same educational background that equipped them to pursue their unconventional business venture. Whiting and Boyd met in college as students at Cornell University majoring in Fiber Science, Textile, and Apparel Management and Design. The pair was introduced by a mutual friend and instantly knew they would become business partners. "It was inevitable that we were going to have a business together. We are both extremely entrepreneurial by nature, and it was one of the connections that we instantly shared" said Whiting. After focusing on pursuing their own individual careers for a while, Whiting and Boyd quickly discovered a void in the fabric care marketplace when their clients would continuously inquire about the upkeep of their designer pieces.
The entrepreneurial duo was committed to researching and developing their own eco-friendly laundry products and soon launched their own at-home solutions for specific fabrics like silk, wool and denim, which ultimately eliminated the need for dry cleaning for those particular items. Despite their products filling a necessary void in the market, it quickly became challenging for the founders to persuade people to shift their focus away from traditional laundry care options in order to try their products. However, Whiting and Boyd believed in their mission for the Laundress and bootstrapped from the very beginning, refusing all venture capital funding with the goal of growing organically. In order to be successful, they had to get creative in fundraising. "In the very early days, we funded business development by hosting a 'for profit' party at a New York City restaurant and inviting friends, family, co-workers, etc. to support our new venture. That was pre-Kickstarter and an inventive way to make everyone feel a big part of our decision to be entrepreneurs," said Whiting.
While turning down VC funding as new entrepreneurs seems unimaginable, it is as equally unfathomable to consider how these women gained national traction without social media, all the while hustling to fund their business. For Whiting and Boyd, who started their business before social media existed, it was imperative that they promote their brand by leveraging the resources they had available to them. The CEO's were one of the first to sell consumer goods, let alone detergent, online with the goal of reaching a national audience. Despite having limited retail distribution, they leveraged the power of their website and became featured in publications on both a national and international scale. "Before social media platforms existed, we nurtured our own Laundress community with engaging content on our website, step-by-step tutorials on our blog, and one-on-one communication through our Ask The Laundress email," Whiting explained. With technology evolving and the birth of social media platforms, the founders expanded the conversation about their products from website, blog and email to platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
As female entrepreneurs, Whiting and Boyd faced additional hardships as misconceptions about their mission ultimately proved to disappoint more than it encouraged them. As women selling luxury detergent, there existed a preconceived notion that funding would be more easily attainable based upon their gender.
"Everyone thought it was easy to access capital as female entrepreneurs, but it was actually very challenging. We had this unique and disruptive idea within a very traditional space and it was hard to get people on board at first. It's been a continuous journey to educate people in fabric care and home cleaning," said Boyd.
Reflecting on their journey as entrepreneurs, the founders express no regrets about refusing to accept venture capital throughout the process. "Over the years, we could never quantify the cost benefit of VC funding so we continued to grow organically and remain independent by funding ourselves with credit cards and loans," explained Boyd. While their decision proved fruitful, the duo expressed their consideration towards other entrepreneurs who may not be able to fully fund their business as they grow. Because funding is a situational experience, entrepreneurs must ultimately do what is best for their business as no one path is optimal for every entrepreneur or every business.
With an increasing amount of women entering entrepreneurship with their own unique set of products or services, the CEO's offer up one piece of advice on how female entrepreneurs can be successful in their endeavors.
Whiting: "Our advice to anyone looking to build their brands: Have a strong business plan and vision. If you are not disciplined to write a business plan first then you are not disciplined to start a business. Get your ideas down so you ask yourself the right questions; it helps you get organized and plan next steps."
Boyd: "Create quality products without sacrificing the ingredients—no cutting corners. What you create should be the most important piece. Stay passionate, and trust your instincts and follow your gut—something woman are awesome at!"