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Issa Rae and America Ferrera Explain The Importance Of Elevating Untold Stories

And give great advice for how young people can do the same

PHILADELPHIA — There are few high-profile actresses as dedicated to disrupting the status quo as Issa Rae and America Ferrera. Rae, the creator and star of the acclaimed HBO series Insecure, and Ferrera, a celebrated actress and activist, have devoted their careers to breaking barriers and elevating untold stories.

On Thursday (September 28), Rae and Ferrera met up in Philadelphia at EmpowerMe, a Fireside Chat presented by Marriott International as part of the 2017 National Black MBA Association and Prospanica Conference & Exposition, to speak about their work. Before they took the stage, they told MTV News about how they got where they are and how young people can get there too.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

  • MTV News: Both Rae and Ferrera were raised to value education and respect the impact of it on their lives.
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    Issa: [My educational experiences] made my life. They shaped me in so many ways, from switching schools every two years and having to reinvent myself, to having amazing teachers who encouraged the path that I’m on currently, to having a mom who is also a teacher and is actively involved … What I think I valued most about my college experience beyond the education was the people I met and how strong they were in mobilizing to make change and inspiring me in so many ways to do the same.

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    America: Education has been important to me my whole life because my parents are immigrants from Honduras who came [to the U.S.] to give me and my siblings a chance at an education and a better life. As far back as I can remember, that was a really, really important element of my life and my goals.

  • MTV: Both actresses embrace their platforms as opportunities to create change.
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    Issa: I know that our show ["Insecure"] sparks conversations. We love creating debates, we love that people internalize these characters and bring them into their own lives … The topics we explore are an opportunity to keep [politically relevant] conversations present when this administration continues to try to suppress these conversations or sweep them under the rug or discredit them.

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    America: People started calling me an activist, so I started calling myself an activist. But the truth is I’m just a human being who cares about the world and tries to use her platform to positively impact the issues that matter to me. I’ve been able to be an engaged, active citizen in the world and follow my passion for creativity and storytelling and really those two passions have merged more frequently than I ever imagined they would.

    I’m not just an actor, I’m not just an activist, I’m not just one thing — I’m all of these things and to honor all the different passions I have within me is the path towards the best version of myself.

  • MTV: And they don’t just advocate for their own voices. Both women co-founded their own organizations that champion diverse storytelling: Color Creative and Harness.
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    Issa: Color Creative creates a pipeline for writers of color to gain experience and have an opportunity to create their work. In my own experiences I found that nobody was going to take a chance on me until I took a chance on myself ... even then, there’s always the caveat of experience. For us it was about creating [a pipeline for writers of color] so we can take a chance on this writer of color.

    This country was built on diverse experiences and people with different experiences. It’s the fabric of our society is being able to come together and have conversations that are inclusive and varied and it also breaks up the monotony of the same voice, the same perspective constantly.

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    America: At Harness, we [tell] stories from the people on the front lines of social justice work. We realized the larger narratives about issues that are in the headlines lack the voices of the people who are most affected and most impacted. Harness amplifies those voices so that the larger narrative about any given issue is deepened and informed by the people who are most impacted by them. I truly, truly believe in the power of storytelling to transform people and create compassion.

  • MTV: They have great advice for how young people can follow in their footsteps and empower themselves and others.
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    Issa: I had to learn to stand up for myself and be true to my vision by failing. ... The issue was I doubted myself. I was hired [in TV] in the first place because they wanted my voice and wanted to hear what I have to say and for some reason I decided to suppress that. Remember what it is that you have to say and keep that present constantly. Remind yourself why that’s unique and why that’s valuable and to constantly tout that in a way of ‘this is what I’m bringing to the table and I’m certain of it and nobody can take this away from me.’

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    America: I had to figure out who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be and what I believe in. 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. ... I'm many things. I'm an actor, I'm a director, I'm a producer, I'm an activist, I'm a wife, I'm a sister. I'm all of these things and every time I try to fit myself into a box so that I would be more comfortable with my label I was shortchanging myself. I couldn't be anything to anyone else until I started allowing myself to be the things I wanted to be, even if that didn't make sense to other people.