I had the distinct pleasure of introducing Yara Shahidi, my TV daughter on black-ish, as the winner of the 2017 ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood “Generation Next” award. This was an absolute joy because Yara is so special to me, plus I got to repay the favor after she so movingly introduced me when I was honored by the National Women’s History Museum! Below is my introduction/letter to Yara:
What a gift it is for me to be able to witness you in this moment of tremendous growth and grace. I was here in this life 27 years before you arrived. And you lived 13 years before we met, yet it has been almost 4 years that we have been walking beside each other, sharing early mornings and long hours, stealing moments of silliness and claiming moments of connection … sometimes in the form of sisterhood, generally under the guise of a mother/ daughter, but mostly as kindred souls from different eras.
There are a few key things that we have in common beyond black-ish: we are both of mixed heritage and we honor and celebrate our legacies, we both have wonderfully strong mothers whom we love deeply. We have siblings that shore us up and help define us.
Kerri and Afshin – thank you for raising this being.
Yara, we have earned our relationship gently and I hold it as sacred. Our relationship is important and is not just about me playing your mom on screen. It is about what happens between takes, in the hair and make up trailer, in our calls and text exchanges and when we see each other out in life as two brown girls with lots of hair that is either masterfully braided, bunned, or just flying free.
I enjoy your company sweet, Yara. I appreciate our ridiculous and ineffable text messaging. I am so glad I knew to call you for the Women’s March and that we will have that as a memory for the rest of our lives, that we were together in that powerful moment.
You can’t help but to grow up, but you are also waking up and that is a choice that you are boldly making. You are interested in and focused on change, drawn to thought leaders, hungry for knowledge and willing to use your platform to inform others about racial justice and gender parity.
Both on and off the set I witness you finding your voice. I am moved when I see you speak honestly about your own identity as a young Black and Iranian American woman.
I believe your intimate life experience, holds lessons that are universal. You have joined forces with New York’s Young Women’s Leadership Schools to launch the digital mentorship program named, simply, YARA’S CLUB. And you’re just getting started.
As someone who has been in this industry and on the planet for a minute now, I know the journey of becoming more comfortable in your own skin and living each day authentically. I see you in this tradition, having inherited a world that has become a bit more accepting of strong, joyous, smart Black Girls. And I am encouraged that you get to come of age at a time where there is a celebration of Black Girl Magic.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share that, even as I am excited for you, I look around our country, and I hear stories, I know that young women of color are faced with challenging realities. [For example, the African American Policy Forum’s #BlackGirlsMatterReport shows that Black girls are often pushed out of schools, over policed and under protected.] That said, I believe in you and my hope for you is that you will honor your potential while you honor the past, by taking the responsibility of this moment to heart.
As I know you know, representation matters. Your presence on television symbolizes so much for young girls. And your presence off screen informs so much more. I see you as a young woman of substance who is interested in expanding narratives and learning how to create change. As FLOTUS Michelle Obama said, “your generation can be the one to ensure that women are no longer second class citizens, that girls take their rightful place.”
May you find acceptance, safety, joy and beauty in your own body.
May you stay curious and teachable.
As an artist, and as a girl with a platform, the invitation is set before you to continue to speak truth and to use your creative expression to deepen our understanding of humanity and further social progress. I know you will do so brilliantly.