Former first lady Michelle Obama, who has long been an advocate for education, has personally played a role in Yara Shahidi’s pursuit of a college degree. Obama wrote a letter of recommendation for the young actress to include withher college applications.
Shahidi, 17, plays Zoey Johnson on the Peabody Award-winning hit TV show “Black-ish,” which airs on ABC (the network’s parent company isThe Walt Disney Company,No. 38 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list.)
“She is very amazing and such a supporter, which is something very surreal to say,” said Shahidi, who revealed Obama’s endorsement in a recent interview with W Magazine.
The teen has applied to four colleges, including Harvard University, where Malia Obama, the eldest daughter of the former first couple, will begin classes in the fall.
Michelle Obama once called “Black-ish,” which is afamily-situation comedy, her favorite show on television. The show’s creator Kenya Barris said in an interview last year that its existence was directly connected to former President Barack Obama being in the White House.
“It would not have happened were it not for him and what he represented for society and culture and the country as a whole,” Barris said.
The formerfirst lady is also continuing her practice of dropping in unannounced at local schools. She surprised a group of 14 students at Ballou STAY, an alternative high school in Southeast Washington, D.C.,with a visit on March 2. Her office said it was her first semi-official outing since leaving the White House in January.
“Stories of students reaching higher continue to inspire me,” the former first lady said of her emotional talk with students at an alternative high school.
“Once she came in, it was an inspirational feeling,” Alliyah Williams, 18, said in an interview. “She was so sweet and warm. She was like a mom.”
The Obamas participate in a past College Signing Day. / TWITTER
During her time in the White House, Obama launched “Reach Higher,” an initiative that encouraged students to pursue education past high school. Aspart of the initiative Obama emphasized College Signing Day, a day in which she asked college graduatesto share on social media a photo wearing school shirts or colors with the hashtag #ReachHigher.
The former first lady has appeared on stages alongside Shahidi, including Glamour Magazine’sInternational Day of the Girlevent in October.Shahidi has said she believes her portrayal of”Black-ish” character Zoey is “activism through art.”
When enrolled in college, Shahidi said she plans to double-major in African American studies and sociology. The actress’mother is Black andherfather is Iranian, and members of her extended family still reside in Iran.
In Shahidi’sinterview with W she referenced President Donald Trump’s travel and immigration ban to Muslim countries, including Iran.
“I’ve gotten a lot of questions about if it’s scary to be on a public platform given the current administration and given that I’m a Black Iranian,” Shahidi said. “I say that to say, companies that are still supporting individuality that are still supporting self-empowerment are so crucial.”
Yara Shahidi with her cousin, Nas. INSTAGRAM
In a2015 interview Shahidi talked about her mother’s heritage.
“We’re Choctaw Native American and African-American our family originated in Ghana, and then there’s a portion of our family that’s the descendants of Vikings,” she said.
Shahidi also said she is the second cousin of Nasir “Nas” Jones, a veteran hip hop recording artist, record producer, actor and entrepreneur.
“My momma grew up with him I was a flower girl at his wedding,” she said.