Many of you know Sanaa Lathan, the famous Tony nominated actress, but what about Sanaa Lathan, the philanthropist who conditions young women out of foster care? In August 2015 Sanaa established the Sanaa Lathan Foundation, a charitable organization that helps women transition out of foster homes and into adulthood.
Blessed with a supportive and ambitious family, Sanaa grew up with many advantages not afforded to many. Raised in New York she followed in her mother’s footsteps with a passion for acting. After studying the arts at Yale University's School of Drama, the actress moved to Los Angeles at the behest of her father, a television producer. It was on her very first day at school that an acting teach doled out a piece of invaluable advice. Telling the young thespians, "Success is measured more by the ability to preserve in the face of adversity than your talent." Without a doubt, the presence of family and the opportunity for education molded Sanaa and prepped her for success and unavoidable rejection. "This business is not for the faint of heart," she shares. Her father also help prepped her for the world of Hollywood, telling his daughter: "Every audition, give it everything you've got, because it will literally or figuratively be an investment in your future. It will pay off eventually. Even if you don't get the job." Sanaa says, "He was right."
Today the working activist hopes to do the same for these young women experiencing hardships. "One positive moment with a young person provides the possibility of changing their path in the right direction forever," she shares.
Did you know… there are currently 28,000 children in foster care in Los Angeles county alone. Half of those kids won’t graduate college and experience grave learning disabilities and developmental delays. At age 17 these children become legally emancipated, unprepared for the reality of adulthood, and fifty percent become homeless or incarcerated. The vast majority of these emancipated young adults turn to drugs and sex trafficking, with no structure or understanding of where to go. “Without actual support they could wind up in the same cycle that got them in foster care in the first place,” explains Sanaa. Hence, the Sanaa Lathan Foundation’s mission is: to empower young women aging out of foster care to transition into adult independence through improved self-esteem and access to higher education.
“Making a real difference in people’s lives” has always been the most important part of Sanaa's livelihood. So she has a very hands-on approach. Working alongside Kenadie Cobbin, the founder and creative director of HerShe Las Vegas, the Sanaa Lathan Foundation provides housing and facilities to abused and neglected foster children transitioning into adulthood and empowers them towards healing and change. She also provides an annual 7-day summer camp where these young girls blossom, build a new community and friends and learn life tools they’ll have forever.
Sanaa believes in the power of “mentorship, time, and giving youth the possibility of hope for their future” and builds the philosophy of her foundation in it. She hopes to provide these young women with role models and a sense of family, citing her mother and the women in her family as her guiding light. "They are some of the strongest spiritually and emotionally people I know,” says the actress who also started transcendental meditation four years ago after a particularly stressful year. Twenty minutes a day, plus the her family's light and humor in the face of life's challenges is what uplifts her spirit. It is her hope to share that same positive mentorship with her girls. "Hope and perseverance," she says, are crucial steps to achievement and tools needed to break intergenerational cycles.
As for what she hopes for her future? Simple: "To still be joyfully doing it all when I'm a little old lady like Betty White."