Actor and activist Yara Shahidi is joining celebrities, educators, and politicians to address one of the most relevant issues among youth activists — inequality in our country’s classrooms.  

“The work of fighting for equality and equity, a large part of it happens in the classroom,” Shahidi said. “And in terms of the resources and space that young people are given at a certain age, it’s really formative.” 

On Wednesday night, the Grown-ish star will introduce the second Citizen Verizon Assembly: Education is Not Up for Debate. Organized by Verizon, the event focuses on the impact of remote learning and inequality on students and teachers and features a debate moderated by journalist Soledad O’Brien around the current state of the country’s education system. Later, O’Brien will join actress and activist Gabrielle Union, mental health activist Catie Cole, and president of the Child Mind Institute Harold S. Koplewicz, to discuss the best ways for families to adjust to digital learning and its impact on students’ mental health. 

 “Its ongoing conversations about the state of education and our role in supporting students, as well as teachers,” Shahidi explained. In July, Shahidi teamed up with Verizon for its first Citizen Assembly initiative, which brought together fellow actors and activists in a live conversation about corporate social responsibility and inequality. 

“The first conversation we talked about the digital divide. This conversation takes it a step further to say, not only is there a digital divide, but given the strenuous circumstances that many kids find themselves in, this is leading to, and directly translating to, exacerbation of mental health problems,” Shahidi said. “It isn’t just a conversation for conversation’s sake.”

Shahidi explained that she comes from a family of educators and activists, who were advocates for the basic needs of their students before COVID-19 forced educators, students, and parents to renegotiate how social inequalities surface in the classroom. 

“It has only been further exacerbated,” Shahidi noted.

Shahidi sees her new focus on educational activism — through her work with Verizon, as well as her recent collaboration with Wells Fargo’s Student Impact Scholarship program — as a natural, intersectional step in her arsenal of social media activism.

“I feel as though when we’re looking at equality in the classroom, it is an intersection of the fight for, and the movement for, equality,” Shahidi said. “Every intersection of identities, not only gender but race, ethnicity, sexuality, immigration status…. intersects in the classroom just by nature of having a very diverse student population.”

Shahidi sees a “one for one translation of the resources that people are provided in the world and what their schools are provided,” she said. And that’s where corporations can begin making a difference.

“Their willingness to hear and learn from people that are leading the conversation on the front lines of education is really important,” Shahidi said. “The honest truth of it is that [corporations] are constantly benefiting from us as customers and oftentimes benefit from the fact that there are inequities…. How do we surpass just kind of our usual business model of, ‘Oh, you want more service? We’ll pay for this,’ to say, ‘What is our actual social responsibility?’”

The Citizen Verizon Assembly will broadcast live on Yahoo Life and Twitter at 6 p.m. ET.


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