When the red carpet starts for the primetime 54th NAACP Image Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, actress Mikayla Bartholomew will be walking in as a part of the award-winning team of Dear Mama. She co-stars in the film, which won Outstanding Short-Form (Live Action) during the pre-awards ceremony on Wednesday night.

Dear Mama..., directed by Winter Dunn, follows the aftermath of a widowed father and his daughter as they individually cope with the murder of Tupac Shakur while still grappling with their personal grief. Bartholomew stars as Tanisha, a South Central teen who feels she’s losing the last of her connections to her mom, who she shared a deep bond with over their love and respect for Shakur. The award-winning short premiered at last year’s SXSW festival and would be shown at ShortFest’s in Palm Springs, Hamptons and Aspen. Last September, The New Yorker selected Dear Mama... as part of their short film collection, where it's available for viewing.

Mikayla Bartholomew stars as Tanisha in Winter Dunn's shortfilm Dear Mama... Image: courtesy of Mikayla Bartholomew.

For Bartholomew, a self-proclaimed “ '90s baby,” connecting to the time period of Shakur’s 1996 death wasn’t a stretch. But the emotional depth she tapped into came from something much more personal. “My entry point, honestly, was my parents. They met in California and that rap period, that culture, that music was their lifeblood,” she says. “I was very sheltered growing up. They didn't really let me watch TV, but one thing I do know is I knew “California Love.” I knew “Dear Mama.” I grew up in a very music-filled household. And one of my most cherished possessions is my mom’s vintage Tupac shirt from when she saw him in concert.”

The young actress’ love of Shakur would continue into college. During undergrad at Virginia Commonwealth University, Bartholomew began studying Black feminist theory and she was introduced to the works of Assata Shakur. “It was actually a very pivotal moment for me becoming an advocate and knowing how integral music is to our culture. But also how we tell stories, even as an actor, even just as people trying to forward movements and push forward our political agendas because we have no choice but to be politicized,” she says. “Someone who really understood that was Tupac and seeing that he was just such a maverick of talent. Like a poet, a rapper, a producer, but also an incredible actor and an artist.”

Like Shakur, the rising star who appeared as the Williams' sister Yetunde in King Richard, has a myriad of passions on and off screen. An active advocate for the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, she’s currently starring in the regional production of Pearl Cleage’s Angry, Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous. She’s also prepping to revamp her podcast Articulate, which “is all about taking back the micro-aggressions to have the conversations that we are not allowed to have in public.” But for 48 hours this weekend, Bartholomew will be basking in Hollywood spotlight as a winner.