On Thursday, Emerge invited Yara Shahidi to speak and share her story with Auburn students.
Known for her work on the ABC comedy "Black-ish" and the Freeform show "Grown-ish," along with activist work, Shahidi's career began many years ago when she starred in her first commercial at age 6.
“My first movie I booked at 7, and when they first called me to audition for the movie I said no because I was only interested in commercials," Shahidi said.
However, it was doing this movie that got Shahidi “hooked” on the television and film industry. She said got her big break when she was cast in the role of Zoey Johnson in the ABC comedy “Black-ish."
“I was 13 when I booked 'Black-ish' and 14 when I started the series, and then I was 16 when the creator of the show called and was like, 'What if we follow Zoey to college?'" Shahidi said.
This conversation was what sparked the idea for “Grown-ish,” the spinoff of “Black-ish” that follows Zoey Johnson as she navigates life in college. When asked if there is a difference between being on “Black-ish” as a recurring role and being a lead in her own show, “Grown-ish,” Shahidi said that there is absolutely a difference.
“'Grown-ish' gave me an opportunity to continue to create a family environment because everyone has to work together to make the show work," she said. "The goal is to have a great time because we aren’t saving any lives in the immediate moment, so we might as well be having a good time and creating powerful content that does some good later.”
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When asked how she manages to stay true to herself in the midst of life as a Hollywood star, Shahidi said that it is her family and their support that keeps her grounded.
“It’s my family who helps me grow up, to help me figure out myself," she said.
All of Shahidi’s family works in the entertainment industry, and they even run a production company together, which makes it easy for them to support and encourage each other. Shahidi said having her family as a support system has helped her to be able to enjoy every step of her life without having to grow up too fast, but because she was young when she began acting, Shahidi said she had somewhat of an untraditional childhood.
“I have done a variety of learning from an all-girls Catholic school to an online form of learning, but it has made my education self-guided, which led to my love of education today," Shahidi said.
Education and activism are very important to Shahidi, who said that the political issue about which she is most passionate is education within voting and, more specifically, educating voters on the power that they contain.
“Right now, I am most passionate about voter education and registration because it is where all of the issues converge; it is hard to feel that there is any one issue worth prioritizing," Shahidi said.
Shahidi said that voting is so important because there are so many young people worried about a multitude of issues, but they have a shared investment in how they are voting, and in understanding voting policy. The problem with this generation is not the lack of passion about issues, Shahidi said, but the lack of access to use their voice and educate themselves on how to make change.
Shahidi also explains that fashion is another way she likes to use her voice and express herself.
“Fashion has always been a space of creative freedom for me," Shahidi said.
If there was one piece of advice that Shahidi would give to the young adults of her generation, it would be to stay close to a support system of people, whether that be family, friends, teachers or peers.
“That has been one of the most influential forces in my life because I have people to turn to who get it and a team who really understands who Yara is as a full person," Shahidi said.
Having a support system can help you grow and branch out by learning and trying new things, she said.
“Pouring into relationships without expecting anything in return is crucial, when the relationship flows, everything flows," Shahidi said.
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