“It started one fateful day,” said actress Yara Shahidi on a recent Friday in March. “I was going to a Beyoncé concert and wearing Ivy Park.” Like all good stories, no?
A fan of Beyoncé (naturally), Ivy Park (ditto), and women’s empowerment (same), Shahidi met the executive team behind Beyoncé’s athleisure label at that concert. They soon recruited her to appear in the latest campaign for Ivy Park, a series of images also starring SZA, Selah Marley, model Sophie Koella, Beyoncé herself and protégées Chloe and Halle Bailey—“my BFFs,” Shahidi said of the sisters, who had just wrapped up their European tour.
“It’s pretty cool to have friends where you can say that: Oh, yeah, they finished their Europe tour,” Shahidi said. “We had to take a moment mid-shoot to just hug it out.”
When we spoke, Shahidi was on a brief break from shooting the third-to-last episode of Black-ish’s third season—and she was about to begin shooting the pilot for the rumored spinoff series featuring her character, Zoey Johnson. While the initial buzz around that spinoff indicated it would follow Zoey’s escapades at college, Shahidi noted the pilot merely begins to plant the idea that Zoey will pursue higher education. (“I can’t give away too much detail,” she told me.)
It had been just more than a month since the campaign debuted at the end of January. Ivy Park Spring 2017 features exclusively women of color and emphasizes the physical and emotional strength of its stars. They’re depicted in their preferred workout environments, and Shahidi gave an interview accompanying the campaign in which she described the balancing, centering dimensions of her karate practice.
“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 told me, referencing the travel and immigration ban to six predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. Shahidi’s father is Iranian, and members of her extended family still reside there. “I say that to say, companies that are still supporting individuality—that are still supporting self-empowerment—are so crucial.”
For Shahidi, who made her screen debut in Entourage on television and Imagine That on the big screen nearly a decade ago, her on-camera work and activism have long been intertwined.
“If you look at the history of art and fashion, it’s always been political. It’s always been pushing boundaries,” she said. Last year, she founded the mentoring organization Yara’s Club with the support of the Young Women’s Leadership Network; she said she has also been educating herself on local elections and grassroots campaigns: “Midterms will come up and there will be so many of us that can vote,” she said. “It’s more important, too, to not just vote during midterms, but if you’re of voting age—or even if you’re not of voting age, like I am—there are ways to make changes and be involved, versus this feeling of helplessness because we don’t have any political sway.”
Among her many public speaking engagements—she’s slated to speak on a panel at the South by Southwest festival next week—Shahidi has also appeared on stages alongside former first lady Michelle Obama, who also wrote her a college recommendation, and gave her a “go get ’em, tiger” pat on the back before Shahidi took her AP exams.
“She is very amazing and such a supporter, which is something very surreal to say,” Shahidi said, echoing her earlier sentiments about the Bailey sisters. (Shahidi’s college applications are now in; she said she plans to double-major in African American studies and sociology.)
Like Michelle Obama, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris has also been “super supportive” of Shahidi’s college ambitions; in addition to the upcoming spinoff, Shahidi said she has been pitching a web series based on teenage diary entries applying theoretical concepts from her high school courses to their pop culture analogues, and she looks forward to returning to the big screen. “It’s been a minute since I’ve done a movie,” she said.
Coming full circle, it was also at the Obamas’ final White House Easter egg roll that Shahidi first met Beyoncé. The singer wasn’t on set during Shahidi’s Ivy Park shoot, though they have yet to meet since—Shahidi described her past few months as “insanity,” and “I can’t even imagine what it’s been like for her, carrying twins,” she said.
Like the rest of us, Shahidi hadn’t known Beyoncé was pregnant—with twins, no less—until that instantly iconic Awol Erizku-lensed Instagram portrait. “I was like, Oh, my gosh, they’re about to start a supergroup,’” Shahidi said. “It has to happen now.” Blue Ivy, take note.
Meet the Women Who Are Making the Women’s March on Washington Happen
The executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour — a Brooklyn native, mother of three, and now one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington — has been working at the crossroads of civil rights, religious freedom, and racial justice for 15 years. Once an aspiring English teacher, she joined the Arab American Association in its infancy, succeeding founder Basemah Atweh, her mentor, as executive director with Atweh’s death in 2005. “I grew out of the shadow of 9/11,” Sarsour said. “What I’ve seen out of bad always comes good, is that solidarity and unity, particularly amongst communities of color who feel like they’re all impacted by the same system.”
Tamika D. Mallory’s roots in community organizing and activism extend back to her early childhood: her parents were two of the earliest members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network nearly 30 years ago, an organization for which Mallory went on to act as executive director. But it wasn’t until the death of her son’s father 15 years ago that Mallory found her niche in civil rights and flung herself headlong into activism. Now, she’s one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, balancing organizing the march with her day job as a speaker and civil rights advocate. “We’re centering this march by having women to be at the helm of it, to organize it, and to be most of the speakers,” she said. “At the same time I think it’s very important that we never forget the fact that our men, our brothers, our young brothers particularly need this support.”
Fashion entrepreneur Bob Bland was nearing the due date of her second daughter, now seven weeks old, when she posted a Facebook event calling for a march on Washington during inauguration weekend. Nine weeks later, she’s one of four national co-chairs at the heart of the Women’s March on Washington — where she’ll march with her infant, her six-year-old daughter, and her 74-year-old mother. “We’re activating people who were previously content with sitting behind their computer and posting on Facebook,” she said.
For Carmen Perez, executive director of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice and one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, work permeates everything else: “There’s no real life outside of activism,” she said. Just over two decades ago, Perez’s elder sister was killed — the anniversary of her burial coincides with the march, and with Perez’s birthday — and navigating the justice system motivated her to work with incarcerated young men and women, first as a probation officer and then with The Gathering, operating on the intersection of race, criminal justice, and immigration. “Oftentimes, when I’m in spaces, I am the only Latina and I have to speak a little louder for my community to be part of the conversation,” she said. “The work that I do around racial justice, it’s not just about Latino rights. It’s also about human rights.”
Californian ShiShi Rose, 27, moved to New York a year ago to develop her activism and writing. She previously worked at a local rape crisis center and assisted in educating therapists and counselors before turning her focus more squarely towards race, first via her Instagram account and then through public speaking engagements and writing. As part of the national committee for the Women’s March on Washington, Rose runs the group’s social media channels, from Instagram (where she has a substantial following) to Facebook. “Women encompass everything,” Rose said. “If you can fight for women’s rights, you can fight for rights across the board.”
A law student-turned-actress-turned-activist, Sarah Sophie Flicker was born in Copenhagen, the great-granddaughter of a Danish prime minister who has been credited with bringing democratic socialism to Denmark. She grew up in California before moving to New York to found the political cabaret Citizens Band, eventually joining the production company Art Not War. “Once you start breaking it all down, you realize the most vulnerable people in any community tend to be women,” she said. “All our issues intersect, and something that may affect me as a white woman will doubly affect a black woman or a Latina woman or an indigenous woman. So when we talk about a women’s movement, we need to be talking about all women.”
Vanessa Wruble, a member of the national organizing committee, is the uber-connector of the Women’s March on Washington. She’s also the founder and editor of OkayAfrica, a site connecting culture news from continental Africa with an international audience. It was Wruble who first messaged Bland on Facebook to connect her with the women who would eventually become her co-chairs: “She said, Hey, you know, you need to center women of color in the leadership of this so it can be truly inclusive,’” Bland recalled. Within a day, they were meeting for coffee; now, they’re marching together in one of the largest demonstrations in support of a vast array of causes in United States history.
Paola Mendoza, artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington, is a Colombian-American director and writer whose work has focused on immigrant experiences, particularly those of Latina women. “Women have never convened this way in our lifetime,” Mendoza said of the march, “and it’s being led for the first time ever by women of color.”
Janaye Ingram, who Michelle Obama once described as an “impressive leader,” is Head of Logistics for the March, in addition to being a consultant for issues like civil, voting, and women’s rights in Washington D.C.
Cassady Fendlay, communications director for the Women’s March on Washington, is a writer and communications strategist whose clients include The Gathering for Justice — the organization helmed by Women’s March national co-chair Carmen Perez. As the spokeswoman for the march, Fendlay is tasked with acting as its mouthpiece, ensuring its message is accurate, unified, and coherent.
In addition to being a producer of the march, Ginny Suss is the Vice President of Okayplayer.com and the President and co-founder of OkayAfrica — she does video production for both. Her background in the music industry runs deep, and she’s worked closely with The Roots for the past 13 years, serving as their Tour Manager for some time. She’s also produced large outdoor events like The Roots Picnic, Summerstage, Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and Celebrate Brooklyn — vital experience for organizing a march of this size.
Last year, Nantasha Williams ran for the New York State Assembly as a representative of the 33rd district — which encompasses a region just east of Jamaica, Queens. Though she lost to Democrat Clyde Vanel, she’s putting her organizing skills to good use in the aftermath of the election, working on the logistics team for the march and assisting national co-chair Tamika Mallory.
When Alyssa Klein isn’t managing the various social media accounts for the Women’s March, she’s writer and Senior Editor at OkayAfrica, the largest online destination for New African music, culture, fashion, art, and politics. Based in both New York City and Johannesburg, Klein’s passion is movies and television, and has made it her profession to highlight creatives of color in both industries. Juggling social media is no easy side project, however. The Women’s March has approximately 80,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, plus a over 200,000 on Facebook.
Shirley Marie Johnson is the March’s head administrator for Tennessee, as well as an author, poet, and singer. Primarily, though, she’s an activist and advocate for those who are victim to domestic violence, a cause that’s not only her focus at the March, but in her day-to-day life through her group Exodus, Inc., which aids those affected by rape, human trafficking, and other abuse.
Born in Shanghai, Ting Ting Cheng studied human rights at the University of Cape Town — and became an award-winning Fulbright scholar to South Africa — before heading to New York, where she’s now a criminal defense attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services. All that’s no doubt come in handy for her role as Legal Director of the March.
Heidi Solomon is one of the three co-organizers for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Women’s March. Although she doesn’t have a long background in activism, Trump’s election moved her to take action, and she’s helped rally approximately 6,000 people from her home state.
Deborah Harris is a grassroots organizer and feminist self-help author who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and served as a community activist for 10 years in the fields of fashion, healthcare, at risk youth, and supportive women’s relations.
As Illinois’ state representative for the Women’s March, Mrinalini Chakraborty has taken the lead in coordinating the Chicago-area charge, organizing bus rides for well over a thousand women and other supporters. She’s also on the National Committee and is a coordinator for all 50 states coming to D.C.. And that’s in addition to her day job: She’s a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago for anthropology, not to mention a student and a dedicated food blogger.
After earning her Ph.D in psychology, Dr. Deborah Johnson is now studying social work at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa — and making sure she stands up for both her and her daughter’s rights at the March, which she’s helping lead the way to for other Oklahomans.
Renee Singletary is an organizer, mother of two, wife of one, marketing consultant, and certified herbalist living and working in Charleston, South Carolina.
A yoga instructor, theater graduate, and local organizer, South Carolina native Evvie Harmon has brought her skills and energy to the march as its global co-coordinator alongside Breanne Butler. Together, they facilitate partner marches and local organizers around the world, bringing the whole thing into synergy.
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