Actress and women’s rights activist Yara Shahidi spoke on her experiences in Hollywood and social advocacy at the Student Activities Board’s SHU Speaks event on Feb. 6.
The 20-year-old celebrity, who attends Harvard University, discussed themes of activism, representation and balancing work with school.
The virtual event was planned by the SAB live events committee.
“We actually started thinking about Yara over the summer,” Joseph Kajon, a member of the committee, said. Students submitted requests of which celebrity they wanted to be this year’s guest speaker through an SAB Instagram poll over the summer. From there, members of the committee did research on the suggested speakers.
Kajon said he was amazed at how much Shahidi has accomplished at such a young age, including being in television shows and movies as well as interviewing former President Barack Obama.
Madison Mindham, a member of the live events committee, added that she thought Shahidi would be a great choice for students to hear the perspective of a successful celebrity who is the same age as them.
Shahidi discussed at the event how her character from the sitcom “black-ish” and its spinoff “grown-ish,” Zoey Johnson, has helped her make the creative industry into a better place for people of color.
Shahidi discussed how the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted her, the nation and the world.
Students learned that Shahidi’s hometown is Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by police last May.
“There is an unfortunate reality we have to face about all of the places we call home,” Shahidi said. “You can have a positive experience of a place and know that that is not the full truth.”
Shahidi said she advises Generation Z activists to talk to people in other generations and recognize how without their work, the current generation would not have as many freedoms. She showed a tattoo on her arm with the design ’63 and said she chose this tattoo because it was a pivotal year in the civil rights movement.
Kara Eckert, a sophomore undeclared major, shared her experience listening to Shahidi.
“I learned about how she celebrates her heritage being both African American and Iranian,” Eckert said. “I think the advice I will take from her is to speak up and read up on issues you believe in and then put in the work to make sure your voice is heard.”
Kimberly Sanchez, a junior psychology major, said she admires Shahidi and her character on “grown-ish.”
“‘grown-ish’ is currently one of my favorite shows and ‘The Sun is Also a Star’ is one of my favorite movies,” Sanchez said. “She isn’t just one of my favorite actresses, but a role model to me so I wanted to get this experience of her discussing her life to learn how and why she does everything she does to improve society and influence our generation.”
Students were able to take a photo with Shahidi at a virtual meet and greet following the event.
“[Shahidi’s] so kind and patient during the meet-and-greet,” Sanchez said, who attended the meet and greet. “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with her and take a photo.”
Victoria Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.