Yara Shahidi is earning fame for playing Zoey Johnson on Black-ish, but this teen actress is also gaining recognition as a humanitarian. She credits her family for inspiring her activism, telling JET Magazine, “For Christmas, every year, we choose a foundation to donate to instead of giving a gift to everybody. It’s really a part of who I am. My grandfather was an activist. My aunt is in social work and because I was surrounded by this at such a young age, it’s sort of nature and nurture mixed together.”
Yara’s generous nature extends far beyond the holiday season. When she’s not working, she looks for ways to encourage education and spread positive messages both online and in person. “I’m filming 9 1/2 hours a day five days a week, but, whenever I have a free moment, I’m talking to the U.N. or working on how to get Yara’s Club launched,” she told the New York Times. Yara’s Club is an online mentoring program she is starting as part of the Young Women’s Leadership Network, an organization that works to end poverty through education.
In July, 2015, Yara became a “Celebrity Godparent” through Saving Our Daughters, a nonprofit that works to end bullying and raise self-esteem in young women. She worked with girls of diverse backgrounds, sharing advice on everything from acting to steering clear of bullies. Yara also encourages young people to pursue careers in STEM. In September, she partnered with DoSomething.org to promote Science Sleuth, a game in which students use science and math to solve a mystery. Winners unlocked donations for classrooms in need.
In October, she spoke at an event put on by Google and the Paley Center for Media, participating in a panel called “Cracking the Code: Diversity, Hollywood & STEM.” Because Black-ish has been so successful, Yara regularly uses her involvement in the show to raise awareness of the need to keep increasing diversity in Hollywood. “I think it’s important to start conversations about topics that are hard to speak about,” she told Huff Post Live.
Yara’s deep involvement in issues like these is especially evident on her social media pages. While her character on Black-ish is mostly concerned with looking cute on Instagram, Yara often uses her accounts to share what she’s reading and address topics like gun violence. She told AOL, “Social media is such a gift–to be able to spread a message within seconds with people that are actually paying attention? It’s so nice to be able to use those platforms for good.”
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