Exclusive! Yara Shahidi is dishing out the life advice you *need*
Actress and activist Yara Shahidi isn't afraid to change the world.
Remember in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Hermione was taking a million classes at once and Harry and Ron couldn’t figure out how she was doing it? Yeah, that’s how we felt after talking to Yara Shahidi—except this brilliant babe doesn’t have a time-turner.
The 17-year-old Black-ish star is everywhere right now: casting a spell on the fashion world with her wicked sense of style (and fronting major campaigns for Fossil and Beyoncé’s athleisure line, Ivy Park), living it up with famous pals (like Chloe & Halle Bailey and Zendaya) and killing the beauty game as a natural hair advocate and the face of Clean & Clear’s newest skincare line.
Oh, and did we mention she’s Harvard-bound in 2018 (Michelle Obama wrote her recommendation letter!), has a black belt in karate and 1 million Instagram followers?
But there’s so much more to Yara than just brains and beauty. She’s passionate about social justice and has found her voice as an activist for change (NPR recently called her the “unofficial ambassador for Gen Z”), taking stands on issues like education, immigration, racism and the gender pay gap.
Last year, she launched “Yara’s Club” with the Young Women’s Leadership Network, a digital community designed to get girls involved in social change.
“Our generation has so much power to effect change, but so many girls think what [they] say isn’t of value,” Yara says. “Instead of getting caught up in the feeling that we aren’t making an impact, we should be focusing on the impact that we can make.”
So where does Yara get her passion for breaking barriers? Maybe it’s from her maternal grandfather, who was involved in the civil rights movement. And it’s definitely from her parents, who “taught [her] confidence in all situations.”
But Yara also demonstrates a passionate drive from within that is clearly all her own. It’s this unique blend of wisdom and relatability that’s enabled her to connect with and influence people around the world.
“Ultimately, a lot of what we’re going through as young people has been gone through time and time before by other people,” she says. “It’s a matter of connecting through personal experiences, finding a way to relate to them and being open to having a conversation.”
Yara’s role on Black-ish—one of few TV shows to portray a successful black family—has given her the opportunity to push that conversation.
“The thing about Black-ish is how many people relate to it, no matter what their own ethnic background is or what their family looks like—but it’s not in spite of them being black that people relate to it,” she says. “It’s because we have been so unashamed of tackling topics that are important to people of color alongside everyday conversation and life as a family.”
And now, in a life-imitates-art twist, Yara will star in her own spinoff show on Freeform, Grown-ish (Jan. 3), which will follow her character Zoey to college. There, Zoey will explore the political, cultural and social realities of life on campus—no doubt a similar experience to what Yara will find as a Harvard freshman studying social and African American studies next year.
After that? Yara’s not sure, but she intends to keep speaking out. (“I just want to focus full-time on helping people. That’s the ultimate goal,” she says.) And whether you have a similar dream or are passionate about something else in life, Yara says it’s all about owning your space and fighting for what you want. Ready to take on that challenge? Here are Yara’s words to live by when it comes to standing up for what she believes in—and her advice on how *you* can, too.
Mantra #1: Embrace the haters
When it comes to social media, Yara isn’t all about the likes or themes or comments. For her, it’s about spreading positive vibes—even to the haters.
“Rather than ignore them, I address them head-on and remind them that there’s a person behind the screen who reads these comments,” Yara says. “It really is about coming from this place of understanding and wanting to truly build each other up.”
Mantra #2: Speak to power
Yara may not be able to vote just yet, but that hasn’t stopped her from being vocal about our government—and she encourages people of all ages to pay attention to politics and get involved. “It is important to realize that [voting] is one of many parts that make our democracy run as it does,” Yara says. “What we can do as Gen Z to create a cultural change or societal change—which can have just as much of a lasting impact—is figure out what we value as a generation, what our goals are and really uniting our focus in those goals.”
Mantra #3: Stop saying sorry
Many of us are guilty of saying “sorry” for things we really shouldn’t be sorry for—a habit that can belittle our confidence. So Yara is working to eliminate unnecessary apologies.
“I’ll say it even in situations where I have nothing to apologize for,” she explains. “And I’m actively trying to stop, because while of course I want to account for the actions I have control over, it’s important to not feel a constant burden or blame for things that you don’t.”
Mantra #4: Never back down
Yara says there’s no shame in going after what you want and what you feel you deserve—ever. She recalls learning this lesson after emailing her math teacher about a miscommunication with her trig grade. Even though the instructor told her she was being too aggressive, Yara didn’t back down—and got the grade she knew she’d earned.
“The key,” advises Yara, “is feeling confident enough to recognize that saying what you need or want is worthwhile.”
This article appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Girl's Life magazine.