Role models are highly important for us psychologically, helping to guide us through life during our development, to make important decisions that affect the outcome of our lives, and to help us find happiness in later life.
Even to the casual observer such as myself, it would be difficult to miss the signs that Tracee Ellis Ross and her TV daughter Yara Shahidi are close.
I don’t watch Blackish (I remember catching one episode in its early days, but as far as I can tell, the show is not carried by any of the channels I have access to in my cold and small neck of the woods.) By all accounts, the show is great and the cast is close. However, there does appear to be a special relationship between Tracee and Yara, with Tracee calling them “kindred souls from different eras” on more than one occasion.
Yara recently won the 2017 Essence Black Women in Hollywood “Generation Next” award and Tracee wrote her a touching letter to mark the occasion.
While reading the letter, I thought how awesome it must be for Yara to have someone like Tracee, a veteran actress, as a co-star, mentor, friend and role model at such a young age. Obviously, I am not privy to the ins and outs of their relationship, although I imagine it is a mix of all those relationships, and maybe more. They have been working together for four years; they met when Yara was only 13 years old. Imagine that! Also, they look a lot alike, being brown girls with curls, in an industry that is not particularly representative of that segment of the country, even with the gains that have been made in recent years. Furthermore, Tracee would be able to help guide and mold Yara in ways that perhaps her parent could not. She’s had experiences she can share and lessons she’s learned that Yara will no doubt benefit from.
In her letter, Tracee speaks about their connection as:
females of mixed heritage
close to their respective moms who she describes as being strong women
two brown girls with lots of hair
Tracee says as much in her letter. She also says that Yara being on television “symbolizes so much to young girls,” which is definitely true. Tracee Ellis Ross is someone Yara can look up to, someone Yara can see that looks like her and for many young girls, Yara is the closest to someone who looks like them. We all need role models, even if it’s not something we are conscious that we need. We all choose to behave a certain way because of someone, consciously or otherwise. That person doesn’t necessarily need to be in the public eye and for Yara and Tracee, their relationship is not only professional, it’s also personal. Making the influence that much greater, I think.
It is heartening to be privy to a little bit of what happens in this relationship. To see Tracee encourage and support Yara as she grows and awakens to the issues in the black community and how she can make a positive influence. It is great to see positive female relationships of any kind and particularly pleasant to read this letter of love, support and encouragement at a time when “diss tracks” and bad blood have been dominating headlines in black entertainment.
Here is Tracee's letter to Yara during the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards:
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 Afshine - 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 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.
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