This Black History Month, we recognize women who are innovative game changers and household names.
Bad-ass women like Eartha Kitt, Cicely Tyson and Grace Jones (to name a few) were known for their activism and unequivocal style. And while we still hail them as the icons they are, there are some new girls on the block who we must honor for their sharp wisdom, intellect, and talent. These young women use their platform to highlight issues all the while never shrinking or muffling their voices. Here are eight black teen actresses who are forces to be reckoned with in the political and social justice landscape and looking fly doing so.
Break-out star, Yara Shahidi, from the hit series Black-ish, is no stranger to fame. Before receiving the leading role in ABC’s Grown-ish series, Shahidi's acting credits included Scandal, Entourage and Alex Cross. Did we mention her cousin is the never-aging Illmatic lyricist Nas? With a name meaning “someone is so strong and clever to do something hard,” it’s no surprise Yara is a leading advocate for diversity in the entertainment industry and the education of girls. The witty actress also formed Yara’s Club in partnership with The Young Women’s Leadership School that allows teen girls to commune with each other as they solve ways to dismantle social and political issues. If you're impressed by Yara, so was Former First Lady Michelle Obama. She wrote Yara a college recommendation and the actress landed a spot at the politician's alma mater Harvard University.
Willow Smith is the perfect blend of her famous parents, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Unapologetic about her love for science, spirituality, emotional intelligence or style, Willow is always willing to challenge herself and the status quo but don’t call her an activist though. When interviewed by Teen Vogue about challenging the perceptions of gender-normative ideals or women of color, Willow revealed that she wouldn’t consider herself an activist but instead something else. To define herself accurately, Willow asked iPhone Siri’s to define what an artisan is. “Artisan is a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand,” the Apple app responded and Smith agreed that the description fit her perfectly.
Chloe x Halle
This magical sister-duo have been blessed by the vocal gawds! So much so that even Muva Beyoncé took notice and signed them to her Parkwood Entertainment label. When Chloe and Halle aren't creating original music or covers, they can be found starring alongside Yara on Grown-ish, spitting facts about inequality, privilege, race, and gender on the show. They even drop some sensible advice on relationships, too. Chloe and Halle have a deep passion for human rights and have been seen protesting for change to be made for those who identify as Black, immigrant or LGBTQ.
Amandla Stenberg’s fearless attitude and intersectional feminist views led her to receive the Ms. Foundation for Women award and other recognition. The Hunger Games actress was also lauded for her viral video on cultural appropriation and why black hair shouldn’t become a “cash crop” for celebrities such as the Kardashian-Jenner sisters. No matter the time or place, Amandla is always fully immersed in who she is, what she stands for, and with receipts in tow.
Another break-out star from Black-ish is Marsai Martin. Known for her hilarious banter, meme-worthy facial expressions, and aptitude for creativity, Martin’s career is larger than life. The 13-year-old is currently working on her new role as executive producer on the upcoming film Little. The movie is about a woman who receives the chance to relive her childhood years after being weighed down with the pressures of adulthood. When she’s not being the Jane of all trades, Martin calls out those who think Black girls should look a certain way and uses her career to highlight the history of racism.
Depending on your age, you may know Skai Jackson from the Disney series Jessie, Bunk’d or the viral 2016 meme where the actress was seated, poisely, while wearing a blue dress. The meme became a sensation because of her infectious smirk and knowing almond shaped eyes which coincided with the following captions:
Professor: please don't show up outside of my office two weeks before finals asking for extra credit
— Tamm. (@Tamela__) April 13, 2016
So you can tweet but can't reply to my messages???? pic.twitter.com/LgDrdhSGoC
— (@OnlyWayIsShawtz) April 15, 2016
When she's not acting, on the red carpet, or being turned into memes, Skai works closely with the non-profit organization, No Kid Hungry. In an interview with Sweety High, Skai shared why she is so passionate about her partnership with No Kid Hungry. “I teamed up with No Kid Hungry as soon as I learned one in six kids struggle with hunger. No kid should have to wonder when they will have their next meal. Child hunger should be talked about more, and I am very passionate about what No Kid Hungry does to get that message out,” the 15-year-old revealed.
At the age of 11, Marley Dias was tired of reading books about white boys and their dogs. Instead of complaining, she took the initiative and launched an impactful campaign named #1000BlackGirlsProject. The basis of the campaign was to feature books that have leading characters who are Black girls. After collecting the books, Marley donated them to girls in Jamaica who were in need. The amazing cause gained international recognition which led Marley to become ELLE Magazine’s youngest editor. Her motivational book, Marley Dias Gets It Done (And So Can You!), was published through Scholastic.