Naomi Owaska hit us with a hard pass and Yara Shahidi is following suit by mastering the art of “Nah, I’m good.” The 21-year old Grown-ish star and Harvard student joined Jemele Hill on Jemele Hill is Unbothered, August 23rd, 2021 to chop it up about all things “What we’re not gonna do”, setting clear boundaries, and the wild balance of stardom and studying/studenthood.
“I became unbothered three years ago. That’s when I learned the phrase ‘What we’re not going to do’ in my ‘year of no’.” She continues, “My year of no became my next decade ”
Known for her outspoken activism, Black joy enthusiasm, and her iconic, larger-than-life, fly-as-ever college character Zoey, on Grownish, it’s safe to say, Yara can’t go outside without someone noticing her. For Shahidi, life has been a balancing act and walking on what Janelle Monae calls the “tightrope”. Shahidi confesses that school for her has always been a grind. On set for five hours, then in school for three. She tells Jemele that many Black stars don’t finish school because of the chaotic environment, from set to studying. “Folks don’t talk about this,” she says.
“I’m such a nerd, that I know I’m going to be a lifelong learner.”
Shahidi reflects on having unrealistic expectations placed on her as a Black girl. Shahidi’s philosophy is not being “everything to everybody” and has worked hard to not get lost in a rat race of achieving and “making it to the next step”. For all the grind and sweat, Shahidi’s schooling wasn’t without its magic moments. As the cousin of Nas (Nasir Jones), Shahidi was introduced to the importance of higher education at 13 years old, when Nas took her to Harvard University activity fair and she saw the Black student body. Now, she’s come full circle as she’s taking Harvard classes with Hip Hop record producer and executive 9th Wonder, the founder of The Hip Hop Archive, Marcyliena Morgan, and famous Black scholar, Cornel West.
” [It] went by so fast, I walked into school with an extreme amount of clarity with what I wanted to do,” Shahidi recalls the impact of her class with 9th.
— grown-ish (@grownish) August 27, 2021
Jemele asks, “What do you hope people learn from your character, Zoey on Grownish?,”
“She’s helped me understand that growth is not linear. I love that she’s just one of many Black women and she’s far from perfect.” Shahidi says.
What makes the Black women on Grownish special is their ability to be human as hell and fans have fallen in love with that. Shahidi knows what she’s talking about because whether you love or hate Zoey, fans are invested.
I feel like Zoey Johnson’s character has made it slightly challenging for me to be a fan of Yara Shahidi 😭
— J. (@bkjuni) August 26, 2021
Shahidi says, “The characters have the space to be messy.”
I will die on the hill that Yara Shahidi is doing a great job as Zoey Johnson.. like who else could play Zoey? Who could replace Yara? Nobody bc if you had a problem, you’d want ZOEY to leave. Not that someone could play her better. Zoey is just hard to like. Which is the point. pic.twitter.com/7unrnS3rAK
— ♡ (@dojabins) April 30, 2021
Shahidi opened up about her growth through her character Zoey, “As much as I hate to admit it, I was Zoey, and I am Zoey. I went through a phase of knowing exactly what Zoey is going through; it’s nice. I don’t mind her being a messy person because it’s real, and we get to shift expectations.”
James admits Yara is more responsible than she was as a 21-year old student. Her philosophy: “Work hard. Play hard.” But Yara’s way of staying on point is getting her mental health in check.
Shahidi dropped some serious bars. “ I feel like I have to overperform in order to say no.” She continues with the quotable, “I have the right to say no, at any given moment.”
We’re all watching as Shahidi continues her reign as an educated, activist queen and considers getting her Master’s degree. “I’ve had a really fulfilling experience studying under the professors that I’ve had. I look back at my three years and feel really proud about what I’ve done.” Oprah said it, and we’ll say it again, Yara is proving this is only the beginning of her using her platform to uplift Gen Z voices.