It’s still Black History Month (yay!), and I am here to introduce you to another side of Zoey Johnson that you may not have known exists. As I mentioned in the last blog, Making History Like Marley, there are two little sisters who’ve got my attention as I look at all of the ways history is currently being made right in front of us. Zoey Johnson is the oldest daughter of Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in the shows Blackish and Grownish (the new spinoff), and the character is played by Yara Shahidi, an eighteen year old who’s chosen to dedicate her newfound adulthood to activism and mentorship (in real life). I don’t know who said that they’re afraid of this next generation, but I’m in awe! I truly appreciate how she’s chosen to use her stardom to draw attention to important issues and I think that we can learn a lot from her parents!
Yara founded an online mentoring program called Yara’s Club, in partnership with The Young Women’s Leadership School, so that she can bring high school students together to discuss social issues and how to tack action, but that’s not all. In addition to making the grades to gain admission to Harvard, she’s worked with Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn education initiative and she recently launched EighteenX18, a movement to encourage her peers to vote during the midterm elections this year!
I don’t know about you, but when I look at Yara and Marley, I realize that I want to empower our next generation, just as they have. Before you get super overwhelmed at the thought of trying to act as your child’s (or mentee’s) PR agent, while balancing your own job and all of the extracurriculars they want to join, I think we can take a few lessons from Yara’s legacy too.
Talk to your daughter and mentees about their personal history, even if they look disinterested. Question them so that they can take ownership of the information. Take them to exhibits, museums, and places you formerly spent time growing up so that they can envision the story you have to share with them. Yara is well aware of her history as a biracial young woman whose father is Iranian and mother is African American, and she’s attributed her ability to interact with others on and off set to her cultural awareness.
Find out what they’re passionate about outside of their future aspirations. Push them if you have to. There are so many young people who want to be athletes, musicians, and YouTube stars, that it’s important we show them the possibilities they have to influence others for good (or bad) if and when they reach those levels. I understand that tweens and teens tend to be self absorbed, but if you can make it personal, it’ll stick when it’s their time to step up. Yara didn’t just get into Harvard because she’s an actresss. She had the activism and community involvement to get their attention!
Get them involved early in community service and volunteer programming. Yara shares that her parents made it a habit of donating money to non profits and philanthropist efforts instead of giving gifts to one another during Christmas, and it’s that type of consistent empowerment that sticks! How can you remove the stigma associated with working with others who aren’t like ourselves, regardless of what side of the “track” they live on? Let’s build bridges earlin in the ways that make the most sense to those whom you mentor.
As Black History Month comes to a close, I have to admit I’m hopeful about the future, especially with leaders like Yara Shahidi sharing the importance of the vote. I’m grateful for the young leaders I know who are doing what they can as well. As mentors, it’s my hope that we never fail to think about the good we can do through mentoring others. Our reach is magnified like crazy, but it starts in our homes first! Remember, legacy doesn’t have an age limit. Don’t think you have enough time to get it together and do something awesome like one of these girls? I’ll challenge you any day on that point! It’s never too late to start.
-Originally Published February 22, 2018