Yara Sayeh Shahidi was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughter of Keri Salter Shahidi and Afshin Shahidi, a photographer. Her father is Iranian, and her mother is African American. The family moved to California for Afshin’s work when Yara was 4 years old. She is the older sister of child actor and model Sayeed Shahidi and they have a younger brother, Ehsan. Keri Shahidi states the name Yara means in Persian “Someone who is close to your heart”, the name Sayeed means “Blessing”, and Ehsan means “To act as though God is watching”. The rapper Nas is their once-removed cousin.
Yara Shahidi will vote in a major election for the first time on Nov. 6. Unlike most 18-year-olds, though, the grown-ish star has been spending the months leading up to the midterm elections informing and engaging young people like herself in politics through Eighteen x 18, Shadidi’s voting initiative. So far, that work has focused on getting out the youth vote in the midterm elections — but after the dust settles next week, Shahidi tells Bustle she wants to do even more.
“Our civic duty doesn’t end with voting,” she says, adding that there are so many more issues to focus on. “At the core of it there’s a long conversation about safety in public spaces, which have everything to do with trans rights, with rights of immigrants, of people of color, of females.”
Eighteen x 18 was launched in January, just one month before Shahidi’s 18th birthday. She describes it as a nonpartisan platform to help young people understand just what exactly is going on in politics and to inform them about their power at the polls. As the midterms loomed, the initiative set its sights on registering first-time voters and educating them on issues like reproductive rights, gun control, climate change, and LGBTQ rights.