“I said, ‘You know what? I don’t have to do this — and I don’t have to hate you for it,’ ” the Empire star, 46, says in the current issue of PEOPLE of kicking out her son’s father, Mark Johnson, after a heated argument turned physical.
Johnson remained a part of Marcell’s life, but shortly after the split, Henson moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career with just her infant son by her side.
“I know I’m not the only one, but people marvel about the fact that I am a single mother and I did make it,” she says.
But despite carving a path to stardom — including earning an Oscar nomination for her role in 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and a Golden Globe for playing ruthless matriarch Cookie Lyon in January for Empire — Henson admits she’s faced difficulties along the way.
- For more from Henson – including how she went on to forgive her ex before his untimely death – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
“It’s funny. When I started making money and moving into expensive neighborhoods, people thought Marcell and I were coming to clean the house,” recalls Henson, who chronicles her journey in her new memoir, Around the Way Girl. “I could see them looking at me even after I was living there, wondering how I could afford it.”
Henson has also expressed concern that she has been paid less on some projects and lost out on at least one role because she is African-American. But she’s made the decision to focus on sharing her story in hopes that it helps others.
“God put me through these trials and tribulations and put me center stage for a reason,” she says. “We can all identify with each other’s struggles. Those emotional scars are what make you who you are.”
Around the Way Girl is on sale now.