Why Yara Shahidi Is The Voice We Need Today

Over the last decade alone, countless activists have selflessly used their voices to advocate for positive change. From Malala Yousafzai to the Parkland survivors, activists have used their platforms to educate their followers about essential movements—from gun violence to feminism and education. However, Nobel Prize laureates, like Yousafzai, and young people such as the Parkland survivors aren’t the only ones who have used their voice to promote change. While celebrities often deliver impassioned speeches at various public protests, many stars also use their free time to advocate for important causes continuously. There are dozens of celebrities who have worked to support notable movements like #MeToo and #MarchForOurLives. Just like we needed Tarana Burke to ignite the #MeToo movement, we also need Yara Shahidi—because the messages behind her voice are irrevocably powerful.

In case you’ve somehow functioned the last four years without hearing Yara Shahidi’s name or knowing who she is, Shahidi has been in a plethora of television series and movies, and even one of Drake’s music videos. Apart from her hyper-successful acting career, Shahidi is also preparing to attend Harvard University this fall, and even got a letter of rec from Michelle Obama (as well as her A.P. Calculus teacher), according to Vanity Fair.

In Shahidi’s professional life, she’s best known for her roles in Black-ish and Grown-ish. However, she is much more than a skilled actress, and there are a few reasons we need to listen to what Shahidi has to say.

Shahidi supports relevant organizations and protests—to help amplify the voices behind these causes.

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Shahidi used her notoriously political activism to deliver a riveting monologue about gun violence.

However, the actress didn’t stop supporting the Parkland survivors at the March for Our Lives event after her monologue commenced. On the same day as the March for Our Lives protest, Shahidi also attended the Kids Choice Awards (KCAs), where she continued to advocate for the cause.

In an interview with E! News at the KCAs, the Grown-ish star said, “I can say very little [about the protest] because I feel like I did a small fraction of what most of the student organizers did, and being there was even more inspiring.”

It’s astounding to recognize that while Shahidi inspires young people to embrace their own activism, she’s simultaneously inspired by the Parkland student activists. Nevertheless, her activism at the KCAs isn’t the first time that the actress has incorporated her advocacy in an interview.

Few things in life are mutually exclusive, and Shahidi understands that her activism and her professional career shouldn’t have to be separate entities.

Beyond meticulously using her interviews to promote her latest professional endeavors, Shahidi continually uses her interviews to draw attention to vital issues and causes.  

Although the 18-year-old star uses her social media accounts to talk about gun violence, gun reform and violence against people of color, she also serves up significant activism inspo in nearly all her frequent interviews. According to Bustle, Shahidi has a plethora of goal-worthy quotes about activism; however, Shahidi’s choice to use her interview time to talk about current issues shows other young activists that you don’t need to choose between a professional career and being a proponent for a cause.

Likewise, Yara also acknowledges that fashion and feminism aren’t mutually exclusive. Because style is a visual representation of ourselves, we can use what we wear to promote the causes we support.

She has transcended her own activism to start a political-engagement campaign.

Shahidi proves that you don’t need to settle for merely supporting a like-minded movement—you can also ignite your own.

Page Six reports that Shahidi recently initiated a political-engagement campaign that encourages young U.S. residents to get involved in politics, specifically by voting in the impending midterm elections.

In her organization, the young star has collaborated with NowThis to create Eighteen x 18. To kick-start her political-engagement campaign, Shahidi and NowThis produced an explainer video about the midterm elections and why they’re so important.

Likewise, Eighteen x 18 also shows young voters how to register to vote. Voter education is vital to encourage young people to get to the polls, yet studies show that historically, fewer and fewer young people are actually casting their votes. According to The Washington Post, millennials were the least represented age demographic among recent elections. Now that increasingly more Gen Z members have joined the legal voting age, it’s pertinent that they learn how to vote and are emboldened to utilize their right to vote (and Eighteen x 18 will help education them). 

Beyond her mindful activism and empowerment, Yara is an inspiring role model for young people of color.

Shahidi is meticulous about what roles she accepts in the first place, as she wants to be a role model for young people—and she recognizes that she needs to choose mindful roles to do so. However, her conscientious roles have also helped Shahidi re-inspire herself.

The actress told PEOPLE that her role on Black-ish has made her feel empowered, which has given her the opportunity to let her voice and opinions flourish. “I feel like what Black-ish and Grown-ish have taught me is that my opinion matters,” she said.

Beyond helping Shahidi reassert her revolutionary viewpoints, her roles on Black-ish and Grown-ish also made her progressively more confident. While confidence might seem like a solely self-sufficient trait to have, Shahidi’s reborn courage also inspires her fans to use their voices to speak out about injustices. After seeing Shahidi portray a tenacious black woman on screen (i.e. Zoey Johnson), her fans also watch her continue to be an empowering public figure off set.

Shahidi’s voice allows other young POC know that they have an important story to tell and others should listen. Nevertheless, 2018 is still a turbulent time when POC are still biasedly targeted by law enforcement officers—especially when POC do use their voices to speak out against problematic authority figures.

However, Shahidi’s voice (and the subsequent impact from her voice), shows young people of color that it’s necessary to continue to talk about what empowers them—as well as what quashes them.

Beyond creating necessary and positive representation through her roles on Black-ish and Grown-ish, Shahidi notes that her characters have inspired young women to explore their own education. She tells Teen Vogue that a young fan once said, “I took this extra science class because of you.” TBH, that just shows how influential one role can be. After all, not many people can definitively say that someone did something positive in their life because of them.

Additionally, Yara has inspired some of her young fans to encourage their peers to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. Mr. Merrill, a teacher at Hoover High, tweeted that Shahidi’s political-engagement campaign specifically inspired some of his students. “@YaraShahidi - You'd be impressed with the students at @hooverhigh29 in San Diego. They organized a voter registration drive and letter-writing campaign for this Friday's National Day of Action. These are your peers doing big things,” Mr. Merrill tweeted.

The Shahidi ripple effect is real. After the inaugural debut of her campaign, Eighteenx18, inspired students to get involved in politics, they then used their own voices to teach even more of their peers about positive political-engagement. It’s likely that these will continue to exemplify their political involvement, which will help even more of their peer engage in politics and activism. (No doubt, Shahidi’s political activism will continue to ripple for generations to come.)

When she isn’t empowering young people to cast their ballots or inspiring them to exercise their own activism, Yara Shahidi is redefining what it means to be a healthy role model. Beyond encouraging young people to become better versions of themselves, Shahidi has given the new generation of activists a mechanism to use their own voices.