All people have their "come to Jesus" moment, when all their trials and tribulations make sense, and they realize why they were put through the storm.
For Taraji P. Henson, that happened in Paris after a screening of her hit TV show, Empire. An audience of approximately 1,000 Parisians applauded her performance as Cookie Lyon, and the magnitude of everything hit her regarding the doors she was breaking down as an African-American actress on television.
"The audience stood up on their feet and clapped," Henson told Glamour magazine during a recent interview. "I cried because, for so long in Hollywood, I've been told that black women don't do well overseas, that they can't open a film overseas.
"That moment for me was the best moment of my life. That's better than any trophy, any award, any nomination," Henson explained.
Henson spoke about how she was unable to shield her son from the realities of racism, even though he grew up in a cushy Hollywood environment once she started to make money.
"My son grew up in a pretty much all-white situation and went to the best of schools. I saw the change when he got older and started to get that life is different for him [as a young black man]. He came home crying, like, 'Why do white people hate us? Why can't we fix this?' " she recalled.
Henson vowed to use her craft to be part of the solution. "This can be fixed. I'm gonna try my best to make change," she said.
The best part of her interview, to me, is when she said a lot of people thought her getting pregnant in college was the end of her career before it even began. The whole " 'Look at your career,' they said. Lauryn, baby, use your head' " narrative.
"When I got pregnant in college, people said, 'This is it for her.' But I did not stop," Henson said. "I never missed a class. I was in the school musical when I was six months pregnant—we just made the character pregnant.
"When I graduated, I carried my son across the stage. I wanted to be an actress; I moved out to L.A. with him," she said. "People were like, 'Are you crazy, moving to California with your son?' My father was like, 'Leave him home.' "
Henson wouldn't hear of it. She wouldn't part with her child.
"I said, 'I can't leave my son at home.' [And eventually] my father said, 'That's your baby. That's your blessing. He's going to be your strength.' And you know what? He was. I didn't have time to go to the club to 'network.' That's B.S. No business deals go down at the club. So I didn't get caught up in that. I had a mission. I had to make my dream come true. If I didn't, what was I proving to my son?"
She focused on her craft and used something that others saw as a drawback to fuel her ambition and drive. Kudos to Taraji P. Henson. She's our #WCW and No. 15 on The Root 100 ranking, released Wednesday, which honors the 100 most influential African Americans from this past year.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.