The average 17-year-old spends their time scrolling through their phone, posting selfies on Instagram and Snapchat, and occasionally laughing at a cat video when they’re supposed to be doing their homework. Yara Shahidi, however, isn’t your average 17-year-old. She was recently dubbed “one of the most profound 17-year-olds alive” by Oprah Winfrey.
A young, dynamic African-American actress starring in a hit series, she’s also a model bringing energy to the industry. And she’s a social activist working hard to break the stereotype of millennials, a generation that she believes can influence socio-political shifts. So it’s no surprise that Shahidi’s achievements have earned her a spot on the Forbes “30 under 30” list.
Shahidi broke through as a child actress as the co-star of 2009’s Imagine That, alongside Eddie Murphy, but she’s best known as Zoey Johnson on ABC’s critical and commercial hit sitcom, Black-ish, and its spinoff, Grown-ish. When Shahidi isn’t on screen, she’s advocating for education and female empowerment. She formed Yara’s Club, in partnership with The Young Women’s Leadership School, to bring high school students together to discuss social issues and how to resolve them. She took the discussions a step further when she founded the Eighteenx18 initiative to promote the importance of voting. Shahidi is no stranger to the White House either, having worked on Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative during the Obama administration.
Being a powerhouse may be in her blood. Shahidi’s mother, Keri, was an actress herself, and her father, Afshin Shahidi, was the longtime photographer of music icon Prince. Yara was raised in a politically-conscious family – her father moved from Iran to the US when he was eight, and her maternal grandfather was involved in the civil rights movement. Earlier this year, when US President Donald Trump first proposed restrictions on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, Shahidi posted an emotional tribute to her parents’ love story on social media, noting that she’s a product of “black and Iranian love.” “Immigrants don’t threaten safety – stereotypical narratives that promote hate do,” Shahidi wrote.
It’s refreshing to see a young star using her status to spark political interest. Shahidi refuses to be fearful about her stance on various issues, often sporting t-shirts and hoodies with political messages.
Shahidi appears to be here to stay, and she says she looks forward to using her resources and celebrity status to positively impact the global community. She’s a student at Harvard University, where she plans to major in Sociology and African-American Studies.
Yara Shahidi’s rise to fame couldn’t have been timed better. With college campuses across the US increasingly becoming hotbeds of political activity – particularly in America’s Trump-centric, highly polarized culture – she’s working to move the conversation forward. “With this administration, there’s no option to be non-political anymore” she says. “That’s pushed people to develop a political identity at a much younger age.”
Tasnia Nasar | Contributing Writer