"I always tell the kids, 'I don't want anybody on Leno talking about: 'I had money, but my momma took it,' " said Keri Shahidi, a Wisconsin native whose commercial acting career started in Minneapolis. Maybe it's the MBA degree in Shahidi or a natural levelheadedness, but she's devoted to pushing her three actor children to perform well academically while becoming financially literate, despite other distractions in Los Angeles.
One of those children, Minneapolis-born Yara Shahidi, plays the eldest daughter on ABC's hit show "Black-ish." Although only 14, Yara's in charge of collecting her paycheck from the accounting department. Accountants thought this was too much responsibility for Yara, but Keri views it as her daughter's money. Besides, Twitter's @CommercialMommy has explained all the information to her daughter, who spends time with a financial adviser twice a year.
Q: How busy are you juggling the academic and professional commitments of three young actors?
A: Oh my gosh. Well, today I do not have an eye twitch so I'm a step ahead. It's very busy. I think a lot of people can relate — whether it's for themselves or for their partner or for their kids — when you know what inspires someone in your charge, you have an obligation to pursue it.
Q: What are your children's inspirations?
A: For my daughter, it's education. She went to Oxford University and a summer program. Last year we took her to Harvard. We got to spend the day with Skip Gates. She sat next to Jamaica Kincaid at dinner. It was almost surreal. She said, "Ms. Kincaid, we are studying you in Honors English." And then for my middle one, he again is an actor and he's athletic. So for him we do things like speed training and travel basketball and tennis lessons. For the little one; he wants to be like his siblings. Be a faster, more refined version of his siblings, which is hilarious to watch. I said, "What do you like about acting?" just today. He said, "I like Craft Service. If I were to put it in order it's: Craft Service, I like getting a check, I like acting." Totally different order than the other kids.
Q: I can tell your kids' names are not black names but names that mean something.
A: They all have nicknames. They are Persian names. Yara, 14, means "someone who is close to your heart." Sayeed, 11, [who like his sister was born in Minneapolis] means "blessing." Ehsan, 6, means "to act as though God is watching," which he does not. He's my feisty one. [Their father and her husband of 17 years] Affhin, is an Iranian.
Q: Has Yara suggested story lines for the makers of "Black-ish?" Your kids' lives have to be similar to those of the characters on the TV show.
A: What the writers do is kind of get to know the children. Yara's story line has been the one that they've taken their time to develop. Yara's just an interesting kid. She's highly academic. She's got a 4.53. She's a sophomore; she's in regular school. She travels the world when she has time. Her new excitement is that the "James Baldwin: The Last Interview" book came out two weeks ago and she had [it] preordered. So that was the highlight of her December.
Q: Remember when "Black-ish" delayed airing an episode on spanking because of the Adrian Peterson case?
A: Oh yeah.
Q: Have you ever had to spank any of your acting darlings?
A: Noooo. It's just like that episode. Our words hurt to the core.
Q: Is college paid for for all your kids?
Q: From your Twitter photo, I know I've seen your face but where?
A: Right now I've got a Hampton Inn spot but my hair is straight in that spot. I'm sitting on the bed and Facetiming with my kids. I have an Aleve spot about to run. I just did a spot with Richard Sherman, a Nike spot. I played a reporter. Just him and I standing there. He was so sweet. You can see his youth.
A more detailed version of this edited interview is online. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9's "Buzz."