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Social Work: ‘Black-ish’ Star Yara Shahidi

Social Work highlights the philanthropic efforts of celebrities and public figures who are using their platforms to give back and uplift the community. These individuals are social, intellectual and creative. Through this feature, we’ll bring you the action behind the cameras.

Being born into a family that values the importance of giving back and extending their hands, hearts and resources to assist others in need, has provided actress Yara Shahidi an innate desire to continue that mission.

“I was raised by a family of humanitarians,” the Minneapolis native tells JET. “For Christmas, every year, we choose a foundation to donate to instead of giving a gift to everybody. It’s really a part of who I am. My grandfather was an activist. My aunt is in social work and because I was surrounded by this at such a young age, it’s sort of nature and nurture mixed together.”

With the help of family connections, school and a soaring career, Yara, of the hit TV sitcom, black-ish, co-starring Tracee Ellis Ross, Anthony Anderson and Laurence Fishburne, utilizes her platform to further invest time in various philanthropic endeavors such as Saving Our Daughters, a not-for-profit organization that encourages dialogue between girls ages 9-16. The organization addresses anti-bullying, self-esteem, violence and hate crimes.

At the beginning of July, the 15-year-old partnered with the organization’s Saving Our Cinderellas program, where she became a “Celebrity Godparent” by taking part in their performance arts mentoring class. Yara was paired with girls of diverse backgrounds, with whom she shared acting techniques and ways to steer clear of bullying.

In addition to mentoring sessions, she also assisted the young ladies in creating vision boards.

“That was my first time working with Saving Our Daughters and it was great! I have eight years of vision boards at my house,” Yara says. So it was great, walking in and seeing a ton of girls creating them. What stays with me is that they’re on the right path.”

She adds, “I feel like when you’re surrounded by people who want to be there and want to learn and listen, it’s really a mutual experience because it makes me want to continue what I’m doing and keep in touch with them. It’s really great!”

Photo: Antonio de Graffenreaidt.

Photo: Antonio de Graffenreaidt.

When it comes to charitable causes, the bubbly teen expresses that it’s imperative that organizations be hands-on because “it’s nice to know that your time, energy or money put toward helping somebody is actually paying off.”

While maintaining a 4.57 GPA, occasionally taking classes at Oxford University, and recently scoring a 5 on her AP test, the history buff lends her time to St. Judes, the Chicago Cancer Foundation, the Anti-bullying foundation and others. In 2014, the ambitious teen and her mom actress/model Keri Shahidi traveled to Jamaica to work with Integrative Clinics International, an organization dedicated to providing and improving healthcare services in underserved communities.

The work involved included giving care where needed and assisting with filling prescriptions.

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Yara’s work as an actress and humanitarian is gaining momentum and illuminating the art of selflessness, and it’s not without notice. For her breakout role as “Zoey Johnson” in black-ish, the young star earned an NAACP Image Award and is currently up for a Teen Choice Award in the “Choice TV Breakout Star” category. Yara was also a part of the NAACP Youth & College Panel, where she spoke about the importance of youth being in the know as it relates to social issues along with getting actively engaged.

In artistry, there comes a certain “power” when the title “celebrity” becomes attached. It is then up to that person to decide if they will use it to become influenced or the influencer.

It is clear that Yara is choosing the latter while taking advice from her big cousin, Nas, who has stressed the importance of staying true to your morale.

“He told me not to sacrifice who I am or compromise values and morals for anything, because then, you could really find yourself on a terrific path.”

At this stage in her life and career, Yara’s star power and the ability to transform into characters has aided in her understanding of people and their varying situations.

“On my part, even though you can’t fully understand what it’s like to be another person, you’re [able] to have further insight. That motivates me to really help the people around me because in the end, it’s definitely something mutual in which they help me and I help them.”

Keep soaring, Yara. We’re all rooting for you!

Stay looped with Yara’s moves via Twitter, @TheRealYaraShahidi and Instagram, @OfficialYaraShahidi.