Kristian Henderson ’09 B.A., ’10 M.P.H. came to Yale from Little Rock, Arkansas, assuming she’d follow the necessary steps to become a physician. “It’s a common narrative for a lot of minority students,” Henderson says. “A doctor, lawyer, or engineer are the idea of a ‘good, successful job.’” Instead, Henderson majored in the history of medicine and discovered a topic she was truly passionate about: how health disparities impact Black women. Black women, for instance, have a 60% higher breast cancer death rate than white women, and they are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth. There are a host of reasons for these unequal health outcomes, including lack of quality insurance and access to care, and more concentrated exposure to environmental chemicals and pollutants.
Henderson’s interests led her to pursue a path in public health, and a career that is now divided between teaching health policy and management at George Washington University, running an all-natural marketplace called BLK + GRN, and working as a yoga instructor.
Henderson spoke recently at the Black Solidarity Conference at Yale — an event she organized when she was an undergraduate — about her journey from public health administrator to defining her own path.
Two topics central to Henderson’s research were the worse health outcomes faced by Black women, and the growing research pointing to toxicity in personal care products. That led her to launch BLK + GRN, a platform for marketing and selling beauty and personal care products from Black artisans made using non-toxic ingredients.
Henderson notes that while wellness and self-care are having a major cultural moment, Black women have largely been excluded. Her business, she says, “is about Black women taking wellness back. They are happy to find a space where they see people who look like them and the products are good for them.” Products range from body scrubs, multivitamins, and sunscreen, to natural deodorant and laundry detergent.
Henderson’s path has resonated with college students who she says are interested in living “dynamic lives. … They have multiple interests and want to find multiple sources of income and make it work,” she says. “They like hearing that you don’t have to choose.”
Running a startup is not without its hurdles. Henderson is currently facing a legal challenge from a large corporation over her use of the term “BLK,” the shorthand for the term Black, which could easily cost her tens of thousands of dollars to fight. But, she says, she is dedicated to building her business and creating a marketplace that brings attention to the connections between personal care products and personal health, all while supporting Black artisans.