In Swahili her name means “hope” and “love”. She burst onto the Hollywood scene as Yvette in the urban cult classic film, Baby Boy in 2001. Her effortless portrayal of the “hood-fabulous” heroine was almost certain to ensure a future of “typecast” roles. But Taraji Penda Henson is proving to the industry that her range is limitless.
A native of Southeast Washington, D.C., Taraji is the daughter of Borris Henson and Bernice Gordon and is the descendent of famed Northpole explorer, Matthew Henson. Growing up she attended Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Taraji dreamed of acting as a child. However, numerous auditioning letdowns and a rejection from the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts led to her temporarily giving up her dream in favor of pursuing her education in Electrical Engineering at the historically black North Carolina A&T University. It was during her time at North Carolina A&T that she landed a job at the Pentagon as a secretary and gave birth to her son Marcel. But it wasn’t long before a failing grade in pre-calculus and the “not-so-subtle nudging” of her father prompted Taraji to give acting one more try. It was that attempt that won her an acceptance into Howard University’s school of acting. Like many students in need of financial aid, Taraji had to take on a second job as a singing/dancing waitress on a dinner cruise ship to help pay her tuition. Upon graduating from Howard University with a degree in Theater Arts, Taraji’s supportive family and friends pooled their money, gave her a going away party and sent her off to Los Angeles with $700 in her pocket to pursue her dream of acting.
Unlike most actors looking to break into the business on the west coast, Taraji decided to forego countless hours of auditioning and instead chose to find a reputable agent to connect her with viable acting opportunities. Her first big screen break came in 2001 as Yvette in the John Singleton film, Baby Boy. Other noteworthy hits include Hustle & Flow and Four Brothers in 2005, Something New in 2006, Talk to Me in 2007 and the most recent hits, The Family that Preys and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button where she starred opposite Brad Pitt in 2008. Taraji’s film credits range from playing the “around the way” girl to an assassin to a post WWI mother of a prematurely aging young boy. Critics took note of Taraji in 2008 when her performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Taraji’s heart is as big off screen as it is when she’s playing a dramatic role on screen. Her numerous charitable contributions to organizations like “A Place Called Home” affords her the opportunity to give back to causes most meaningful to her like single mothers and at-risk youth. As a mother, actress and community advocate, Taraji continues to indulge her dreams and push the boundaries with her talent. We look forward to all that is to come from this rising star.
You can see Taraji in the upcoming Tyler Perry film, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, out this weekend and by the way, HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY TARAJI (Sept 11)!!!