Playing the daughter on a hit sitcom is a springboard for many a teen star, but 17-year-old “Black-ish” actress Yara Shahidi has mobilized her fanbase beyond the entertainment world into the political sphere as an advocate for women of color and LGBTQ teens. After interviewing Hillary Clinton at Teen Vogue’s summit on Saturday, the incoming Harvard freshman took a few moments to chat about her latest philanthropic and Hollywood projects.
WWD: What was the biggest takeaway from your conversation with Hillary Clinton?
Yara Shahidi: How important being civically engaged is. Disengagement does directly affect policy change and given those tangible examples, you realize how important and integral these people are in changing our political landscape. It is motivating to say, “Here’s somebody who has helped millions of children get access to health care,” and that’s a role that we can take on as the next generation as well.
WWD: What about Clinton inspires you?
Y.S.: Her perseverance. When you’re a part of any protected class, whether it is being a woman, a person of color, a part of the LGBTQ community or an immigrant, we’re expected to get everything right and be the embodiment of perfection when it is not expected of other people. The way she has carried herself amidst these allegations that people have thrown at her, amidst the constant double standard of what is expected of her and what is expected of the current active president, is insane, and yet she has shown us the importance of making tangible change, not only as First Lady, but as Secretary of State and as a senator, too.
WWD: Tell us about your new philanthropic initiative “18 by 18.”
Y.S.: “18 by 18” is a great collaboration. As somebody who is turning 18 next year, fortunately before midterm elections, I realized that there is a disparity between what we expect adults to know and what we expect teens to know. When you’re right on the cusp, it is as though you’re supposed to catch up with all political information within a matter of months. Also, there’s a lack of knowledge about how crucial midterms are. Midterms are our opportunity to really take action against the discrimination we’ve been seeing. Gerrymandering is obviously a problem in terms of discrediting voters and so this midterm election really does elect the people who will be redrawing districts. So it’s important that we get people who represent us in there.
WWD: Do you have political aspirations yourself?
Y.S.: I describe what I want to do as policy-adjacent, so I’m assuming it will be [within] the nonprofit world, but we’ll see what that morphs into.
WWD: What excites you most about going to Harvard University next year?
Y.S.: I am such a nerd. I feel like from the moment I visited at the age of 13, I realized there was a space for me in a place where I didn’t think there would be a space for me. [There’s been] a community of professors and students and alumni who have been very supportive along the way and shown the support network that there is at Harvard. I’m excited to be moving to a space with them.
WWD: What do you plan on studying?
Y.S.: I’m double majoring in social studies — which is sociology, anthropology, economics, and philosophy — and African-American studies.
WWD: Tell us about “Grown-ish,” the spin-off based on “Black-ish.”
Y.S.: When you watch “Black-ish,” you’ll notice they’re two different shows. We see Zoey evolve as a character in a way that I never expected. To have that kind of opportunity and to directly engage my generation is exciting.