America Ferrera and Issa Rae with “Good Morning America’s” TJ Holmes at Marriott International’s EmpowerME during the National Black MBA Association and Prospanica Conference in Philadelphia. (Photo Credit: Kari O’Hara/IMG LIVE)

Actresses and education advocates Issa Rae (“Insecure”) and America Ferrera (“Superstore”) participated in Marriott International’s EmpowerME last night at the National Black MBA Association and Prospanica Conference in Philadelphia. The discussion, moderated by “Good Morning America’s” T.J. Holmes, centered around education, empowerment and how one can use their platform to drive change, as part of the ongoing Marriott #LoveTravels initiative.

America Ferrera and Issa Rae at Marriott International’s EmpowerME during the National Black MBA Association and Prospanica Conference in Philadelphia. (Photo Credit: Kari O’Hara/IMG LIVE)

Here are highlights of the conversation:

Representing those who fought to get you where you are…
America: “I feel like for most people who come from communities of color, we understand that we got through our doors because other people fought for us to get through those doors. So when you walk into that room and you’re the only one, for me I feel like most of us feel that we’re not we’re sitting in that room alone; we’re sitting in the room with everybody else who also deserved to be in that room but didn’t have the privilege and opportunities that I had to get into that room.”

What diversity really means…
America: “I think over the years what I’ve realized is we can’t silo ourselves like that anymore. Like for me we’re all either going to rise together or we’re not, and I can’t just be out there asking for this word that I hate – diversity – because diversity just means not white, like let’s keep it real. Like not white straight man. Everything else is diversity and to me that just, it’s a fallacy, because what you mean is everyone else.”

Reverse racism in society…
Issa: “So many straight white males and some white women were just so excited to be able to play the victim, you know, and I found that in calling me a racist it just, one: demonstrated that so many white people don’t know what racism is to begin with, and we’re so content in being able to deflect the real issue at play and I think for me that that’s what started to frustrate me.”

The importance of finding your place at college – and beyond…
Issa: “Whereas at Stanford, you know, most of the people were pursuing, human biology and engineering and law, and it was just, I stood out more, because I was persistent in pursuing directing and writing, and so you know, the camera was always available in the library – nobody was checking it out – and that really honestly helped to shape my career. I wouldn’t be able to experiment anywhere else and fail and I don’t take that for granted at all.”

The lack of financial literacy education in high school and college…
Issa: “I was just talking about financial literacy; I wish I had been educated in high school and in college. Like, I just didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to open three credit cards at once. Like when the mail came, and it was like ‘you can get a free credit card and a t-shirt’ – and I got the t-shirt – that that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. And it feels like common sense now, but like for me, it was just like, free money – what?! Just make the minimum payments and I’m good; $25 and, oh, by the time I was out of college I was like, where’d all this, why are they allowed to charge me money on top of money? Why didn’t anybody tell me? That hindered me for sure.”

Using your platform to empower yourself and others…
America: “For me, it definitely started with empowering myself. I think when I started acting and all of the sudden I was, you know, a role model to short girls, to chubby girls, to Latina girls, to you know any cross-section of my identity, I was a representation of those people; that was really overwhelming to have to carry that with me with every decision I made. I was 17 when I started acting so I didn’t know what to do with the platform, and I think for me I had to just figure out who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to be, and what mattered to me, and what I believed in, and that’s what empowers me to use my voice, when I know myself and I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”

Yvette Caslin

I'm a writer, image architect & significance marketer. Love photojournalism, creative expression & originality.