Yara Shahidi

“My dream of dreams is to create some form of alternate curriculum that is inclusive of all people,” says Yara Shahidi.

Yara Shahidi is an Iranian-African-American actress, model and activist. She is known for her starring role as Zoey Johnson on the sitcom Black-ish, and its spin-off series Grown-ish.

Shahidi was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to mother, Keri Salter Shahidi, who is African American and Choctaw heritage and to Iranian American father, Afshin Shahidi, a photographer. The family moved to California for Afshin’s work when Yara was four. She is the older sister of child actor and model Sayeed Shahidi and they have a younger brother, Ehsan.  Keri Shahidi said the name Yara translates to “capability, ability; strength; courage,” and as a given name, “someone who is capable to do something, or someone capable of doing something hard/difficult.”

Yara started acting at the age of six, but despite having major success in that department she continued to pursue her education. Shahidi would continually put her education before her acting career. She ran through 5 on-set tutors before finding one who could keep up with her and her rigorous courses. “I’m that annoying person in class where if we were reading a book, I’d not only read that book, I’d read one similar, written in the same era, to find the commonalities,” she says.  Shahidi graduated from Dwight High School at the end of the 2018 school year in New York and began attending Harvard this semester.

As if keeping an outstanding academic record wasn’t enough for this young actor, Shahidi even started her own activist group called Eighteen x 18 with social newspaper NowThis, to encourage her peers to vote in upcoming elections.  Her other organizations include Yara’s Club which is a partnership with Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN) of New York, which provides online mentorship in hopes to end poverty through education. “My passion really stemmed from having gone through the 2016 election, where myself and many of my peers were unable to vote,” she says. “A lot of them went with their parents to the polls, but there was that feeling of being lost. Like, ‘What can we do to contribute to our sociopolitical landscape?'” Shahidi even had a registration booth at her own voter-themed 18th birthday party, held in February at Los Angeles’ Underground Museum.

Shahidi also loves podcasts and will be soon starting her own podcast called 18 x 18 with Yara Shahidi, where she will be interviewing other young female role models and game changers who come from the entertainment, activism, or political world.

Shahidi’s activism, advocating for female and racial equality and political awareness, has led her to many accomplishments. She had been noticed by former first lady Michelle Obama, who wrote her a letter of recommendation to Harvard University. Yara plans to become a Historian, specializing in world history, while continuing to pursue her love of acting.


Nadia Wooten,

Project RACE Teens Vice President

Photograph by Nagi Sakai