Tiffany Haddish's high school social worker changed her life when she encouraged her to join a comedy camp

By Ale Russian
November 06, 2019 03:00 PM

Tiffany Haddish credits her high school social worker with changing her life — all thanks to one big push.

Haddish is featured in PEOPLE’s first annual Kindness Issue, on stands Friday, which shares stories of life-changing instances of kindness. For Haddish, who was placed in the foster care system at 12 years old, she credits one of her case workers for the kindest gesture she’s ever experienced.

When Haddish, 39, was struggling in high school, Coleta Lewis gave her an ultimatum: Go to therapy or go to the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp. The decision to join the camp changed the trajectory of Haddish’s life.

“When you’re in foster care, if the right person comes into your world even for just a moment, they can help you reset and restart,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “She realized the gift I had, and she got me to a place where I could nurture that. It opened up my world.”

“I remember going to see her at the Laugh Factory and cheering for her,” Lewis tells PEOPLE. “If I could see her now, I’d hug her and tell her I’m not surprised how successful she is.”

Tiffany Haddish
Tiffany Haddish
| Credit: Roy Rochlin/Getty

Now, Haddish hopes she can pass on the inspiration to other kids struggling in the system now.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever have children of my own—I don’t know that any man could trick me into that!” she jokes. “But I am going to have a home with kids someday. I feel like I’ve got a lot to offer. I want to watch their lives flourish. Isn’t that what parenting is anyway?”

In 2017, Girls Trip made her a star, and Haddish started to make good on that promise, founding the She Ready Foundation to assist local foster care programs—and give suitcases to impacted kids.

“When I was 18, my grandma gave me her old Samsonite suitcase,” she says. “I felt like the most important person ever. Trash bags make kids feel like trash. Suitcases make them feel like travelers.”

The gift changed her world after being used to social workers putting her things in trash bags every time she moved. To date she has donated thousands of suitcases collected during charity drives and purchased from ticket sales to her stand-up shows.

PEOPLE’s first-ever Kindness Issue is dedicated to highlighting the ways, big and small, that kindness can make a difference and change lives. Click here and pick up the issue, on stands Friday, Nov. 8, for more stories on the impact of kindness from Julia Roberts, Tiffany Haddish and other stars, as well as everyday people practicing kindness in their communities.