WATCH: Yara Shahidi Gives Empowering Speech on Racism in Hollywood

Yara Shahidi, the costar of the award winning series Black-ish is making a name for herself not only as an actress, but also as a humanitarian, scholar, philanthropist and activist.

Last month, the 16-year old Black-ish star gave an empowering speech while accepting an award for her philanthropy at the Points of Life Conference on Volunteering and Service about Hollywood and the representation of minorities in the media.  Throughout her speech she emphasized the importance of using “activism through art,” and stressed the importance on how characters like “Zoey” can change the perceptions of others while creating new opportunities for people of color.

“As you watch Black-ish, you are witnessing the constant conversation and work we put into the blossoming and development of my character Zoey. She is my activism through art.  She is an angsty, rebellious teen, entrepreneurial at heart, academically astute, and the thread that ties her family together. It is through my character and characters like her that the barriers that racism, ageism, sexism, and other -isms can be broken down.”

Shahidi also brilliantly addressed the harm in stereotypes, and how the media can influence our perceptions of various races and ethnicities.

“Many shows consciously and unconsciously perpetuate stereotypes by casting people based on what a few empowered seem to deem as believable,” Yara says. “So, if a black man is always cast as the drug dealer, but rarely as the righteous, successful businessman, the conclusion is that it is not believable for a man of color to be inherently good or successful or on the side of righteousness.”

“Good, bad, or indifferent, TV helps to define our collective reality.  And if a child grows up never seeing themselves represented as successful or as the hero, then they are the anomaly if they succeed and the expectation if they fail.”
Shahidi began her career in entertainment at 6 years old, being featured in television and print advertisements for companies such as McDonald’s, Ralph Lauren, Target, and other major companies.  She made her feature film debut in 2009, when she starred opposite of Eddie Murphy in Paramount Pictures’ Imagine That, and played “young Olivia Pope” in a few episodes of Scandal.  In 2014 she was granted the opportunity to star as 14-year old Zoey Johnson (a character based on Kenya Barris’ actual teenage daughter) in Black-ish alongside Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross.  Two years ago, Shahidi received an NAACP Image Award in the category of ‘Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy,’ and was honored at the Gracie Awards Gala with the Female in a Breakthrough Role award earlier this year.
Check out her empowering speech in it’s entirety in the above video!