What You Don't Know About Yara Shahidi

Yara Shahidi is not your typical 20-something Hollywood actor. You won't find her partying or clubbing because it appears that she'd rather spend her off days obtaining degrees and encouraging young adults to vote. From the time the star found herself in the spotlight on ABC's "Black-ish," it was clear that she had aspirations far beyond obtaining fame — although she seems to have accomplished that along the way, as well. The actor and her supportive family don't allow Hollywood to define them. "I think we as a family walked into this career knowing that Hollywood is just a place. It's not going anywhere," Shahidi told The Guardian. "My parents have always said that acting is something we do, but not who we are." Just as her parents planned, Shahidi is not just a talented actor but also an activist, business owner, and Harvard graduate.

After leaving "Black-ish," the celeb went on to star in the show's hit spin-off, "Grown-ish," which follows Shahidi's character and her friends as they navigate college. These TV shows aren't afraid to highlight the realities many Black families face in America. Both of these groundbreaking sitcoms speak to Shahidi's passion for diversity in the media. This is only one of the star's many interests outside of acting. There's a lot more to learn about the actor, her accomplishments, and her promising future.

Here's what you don't know about Yara Shahidi.

She was drawn to Black-ish because of its societal impact

ABC's "Black-ish" aimed to explore topics that affect Black families in America all while making audiences laugh. This show was incredibly successful given the risks its creator, Kenya Barris, took. "Black-ish" ran for eight seasons, during which time viewers watched the show's youngest cast members grow up. The young actors seem to be just as moved by the show's message as its audience. Marsai Martin, who played Diane on the sitcom, and Yara Shahidi, who played Zoey, both spoke out about "Black-ish" and Black representation in Hollywood. "You were watching a Black family just live and be," Martin said of the show, per USA Today. "It just felt so real. It wasn't only a sitcom, we would be hitting topics that not even dramas talk about."

Shahidi, on the other hand, seemed to know that "Black-ish" would resonate with audiences from the beginning. In an interview with The New York Times, the actor recalled auditioning for shows that pushed inaccurate stereotypes about being Black in America before landing her role on the sitcom. "But 'Black-ish' is a more positive portrayal of what it's like to be Black in America," she said. Shahidi gave an address at a 2016 conference for the Points of Light organization, sharing, "This complex, unabashedly proud Black teenager may seem like no big deal at first, but it is through my character and characters like her that the barriers of racism, ageism, sexism, and other isms can be broken down."

Michelle Obama wrote a recommendation letter for the Harvard graduate

If you've ever heard the incredibly intelligent Yara Shahidi eloquently carry on a conversation, you probably weren't surprised to find out that the star was accepted into Harvard University in 2017. Harvard was only one of the many prestigious schools Shahidi applied to, and she revealed to Seventeen that she received an acceptance letter from every one of them. So, why did the "Grown-ish" star choose Harvard? Maybe it had to do with the fact that former U.S. president Barack Obama, his daughter Malia Obama, and former first lady Michelle Obama all attended the university. After all, Michelle is one of Shahidi's many mentors. This mentorship later helped Shahidi secure her spot at Harvard, as Michelle wrote her a recommendation letter.

The former first lady first met the actor at an event hosted by Glamour magazine and the White House's Let Girls Learn initiative for International Day of the Girl. Both activists made it clear that they are very passionate about women's access to education, so perhaps this is why they were drawn to connect with one another even after the event was over. In an interview with W magazine in 2017, Shahidi revealed some details about Michelle's mentorship. "She is very amazing and such a supporter, which is something very surreal to say," Shahidi shared.

She had a voter registration-themed birthday party

Yara Shahidi has made great efforts to get youth involved in politics. One of the ways she accomplishes this goal is by making the voting process less intimidating for young people. Her initiative, WeVoteNext (formerly Eighteen x 18) simplifies voter registration and provides resources that educate new voters on their local politicians. On the WeVoteNext website, Shahidi explains why she is so passionate about the cause. "We vote for not only ourselves, but for 'all sons and daughters' and every layer of intersection and identity," she explains. "We vote for each other."

The former "Grown-ish" star is so serious about politics that she even centered her 18th birthday party around voter registration, which is something most teens probably can't relate to. The actor first revealed she had this socially-conscious party during an appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in 2018. She also delved further into WeVoteNext and why she decided to create the initiative. "It's really important that we understand the policies that are on the table in a very non-theoretical sense," she said of the 2018 midterms. "In a sense that's grounded in the human aspect of what we're voting on." The star went on to emphasize the importance of voter registration, especially among youth. It seems that Shahidi is driven to use her platform to change the world.

The former Black-ish star is a huge James Baldwin fan

By now, you've probably concluded that Yara Shahidi is passionate about activism. It turns out that her interest even influences the star's reading preferences. Shahidi revealed to The Strategist that the James Baldwin book "The Fire Next Time" is one of the items she can't live without. "The thing with 'The Fire Next Time' that I love so much is not only does it capture this really specific moment in our history and shared past, but it introduced me to so many other incredible figures," she shared. Shahidi went on to reveal that she even has a tattoo inspired by the book. "It's the reason why my first tattoo is '63 for 1963, which is when the book came out," the actor explained. The civil rights era author and activist is a huge inspiration to Shahidi, but she's not necessarily comfortable with being labeled an activist herself.

Shahidi explained why she isn't a self-proclaimed activist during an interview with Elle. "I remember having to clarify time and time again that there are people doing incredible work who should be supported," the star said. "I choose to be as socially engaged as I possibly can. But when we push people into this activist space, we need to really interrogate what we expect from public figures. And when we're endowing them with this voice, what is the conversation that we want them to have?" She went on to reveal that she aims to use her platform to amplify the voices of non-celeb activists.

Being in a relationship isn't her first priority

During Yara Shahidi's teen years, you couldn't find her walking hand in hand with a high school lover down the red carpet. There were no paparazzi pictures of the star leaving a restaurant with a rumored romantic interest. There's a reason for the mystery around Shahidi's love life. She isn't one to yearn for a relationship. As she told Refinery29, "It's never been a priority to me... I'm an Aquarius with a Scorpio rising, so my ability to detach is unprecedented." It seems that Shahidi just wasn't a fan of dating as a teenager, because she continued: "I think so many times with teenage relationships it gets convoluted. I enjoy just having male friends first and foremost."

The star's demanding career and busy schedule also make relationships difficult. After all, Shahidi is an actor and producer who does tons of good deeds outside of her full-time job, so she already has a lot on her plate. The "Grown-ish" star spoke to Seventeen about why she was too busy to look for love. "I haven't dated anybody," she revealed at the time. "My general outlook is if I don't have time to take a bath on a regular basis, then I don't have time for another human. I love being busy, and I enjoy where I am at right now." Shahidi's Harvard degree probably benefited her more than any relationship could've, so it seems she made the right choice.

The Grown-ish star's father was Prince's personal photographer

Yara Shahidi isn't the only person in her family who is known for their extraordinary talent. The star's father, Afshin Shahidi, is a famous celebrity photographer who worked for Prince for most of his career. Afshin first began working for the late pop icon in 1993 when he was booked as a film loader for one of his music videos, per NPR. The photographer went on to work for Prince for 20 years, during which time he and the musician formed a close friendship. In 2017, he released a book that documented the late music icon's life in photos. The project, titled "Prince: A Private View," contained many never-before-seen photos of Prince, so it may be safe to say that Afshin knew what the star was like behind the glitz and glam.

During an interview with Time, Afshin Shahidi opened up about how the friendship progressed over the years. "He took me and my family under his wing and was very supportive of us creatively," the photographer said. He went on to reveal that Prince was also close with Yara and the entire Shahidi family. He was even a fan of Yara's work on "Black-ish." Afshin shared that the musician messaged his daughter on social media to let her know that her character, Zoey, was his favorite. Thanks to her famous father, Yara can say that Prince was one of her supporters — and let's not forget her famous mentor, Michelle Obama.

She has a close relationship with her parents

Yara Shahidi is very close with her mother and father, which is perhaps how she's managed to remain so humble despite growing up in the spotlight. The star's mother, Keri Shahidi, is likely able to understand the challenges her daughter faces in the entertainment industry because she is also an actor herself. In an interview with Glamour, Keri revealed that it is important for the family to remain close as Yara and her brothers, Ehsan and Sayeed Shahidi, grow up in Hollywood. "We're so involved in one another's lives," Keri said. "It may look like helicopter parenting, but in Black culture and Iranian culture, that interconnectedness is deeply important."

Yara was introduced to Iranian culture through her father, who migrated to the U.S. from Iran as a child. She spoke to Glamour about how her parents' cultures helped her better portray Zoey, her character on "Black-ish." "My parents did a great job teaching us about both [African American and Iranian] cultures," the star revealed. "As an entertainer, that adds another layer." Although Yara is close with both of her parents, it appears that she and her mother have a particularly special bond. The actor even adorably still calls Keri "mommy." "Mommy and I are genuinely best friends, while she is still very much my parent," Shahidi said of her relationship with her mother, per Refinery29. "It helps that we're the same person in different bodies with just minor deviations."

Yara Shahidi is New York-based rapper Nas' cousin

Even Yara Shahidi's extended family is full of talent. It turns out that the young actor is related to rapper Nas, and the two often praise each other's work and accomplishments. In 2021, Shahidi revealed that she's a huge fan of Nas' music, too. When asked about what tunes she listens to while getting ready to walk the red carpet, the actor replied: "Today was 'Duckworth,' my cousin Nas, of course, Amy Winehouse, and The Neptunes," per E! News.

Nas seemingly isn't afraid to reciprocate this support, because he appeared to be incredibly proud of Shahidi for graduating from Harvard. The rapper took to Instagram to praise his cousin's accomplishment through a post dedicated to her. "Congratulations are in order because my family @yarashahidi just graduated from Harvard!!! Let's Gooooo," he wrote in the caption. The two stars have remained close over the years, and Shahidi was even a flower girl in Nas' wedding in 2005. In 2016, the actor attended the Revolt Music Conference to honor her cousin with a touching speech that made it clear she is inspired by his music and cultural impact.

The star and her mother own a production company

As if Yara Shahidi's list of accomplishments couldn't get any longer, we have one more to add to the list — although she probably has even more in the works. The actor and her mother, Keri Shahidi, founded production company 7th Sun, and it seems to be off to a great start. In 2020, Deadline reported that the company landed a deal with ABC Studios to begin working on new TV projects. "I'm thrilled to be partnering with my home family, ABC Studios, in this exciting next chapter, alongside my family," Shahidi said of the business deal. "It's exciting to add our production company to the roster of my peers and mentors who are also actively committed to sharing meaningful stories."

Although we don't yet know exactly what kind of content this deal will produce, it may be safe to say that diversity and representation are discussed during the brainstorming process. While speaking at an event during NYU's 17th annual MLK Week, Yara and Keri revealed that 7th Sun will allow Black and brown creatives to bring their stories to life. "This is not a big machine to create more projects for me, and if anything, it's quite the opposite," Yara said of the production company, per Washington Square News. "It's under the idea that we are so passionate about this work of knowing how talented our brown and Black community is."