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YouTube Star Tarek Ali Talks GLAAD Nominated Podcast, 10+ Year Career as a Black Queer Creative

Updated: Apr 18

Exclusive | Feature Spotlight

Tarek Ali nominated for a GLAAD award for outstanding podcast
Tarek Ali / Photo Credit: Darshae Spells

A little more than a decade ago when ads weren’t as ubiquitous and Facebook was the dominant medium, influencer culture was gradually beginning to take shape. Highly popular social media sites such as Instagram and X (formerly known as Twitter) were fairly new and still figuring out their burgeoning audience. However, YouTube had already cemented itself not just in popular culture, but in everyday life. From its inception in 2005, the video-sharing site has now evolved into the second most visited website in the world. 

Countless tastemakers and stars alike have launched their careers utilizing the legendary platform and continue making an impact to this day. One of these influential creators is none other than one of the social media pioneers himself, Tarek Ali.

Initially, Tarek Ali got his start making funny videos on Vine during high school. At the early age of 16, he created his own high school club, which evolved into the non-profit Caring Colors LGBTQ+ Empowerment Organization.

The non-profit aimed to function as a safe space for LGBTQ+ adolescents and young adults and has produced multiple high school chapters in Prince George’s County and collegiate chapters in Georgia State University and Prince George’s Community College. As a result of the non-profit’s success, Caring Colors was recognized by the Obama Administration, leading Ali to receive an official invitation to The White House.

After the decline of Vine, Ali set his sights on YouTube. On his new channel, he began making videos about his own life as a college student, often centering around advice or experiences of being Black and gay.

While Ali steadily gained traction online, he continued pursuing his goal of becoming a dentist having successfully obtained a Biology degree from Georgia State University and attaining a full ride to boot. On top of these impressive accomplishments, Ali also worked in healthcare at reputable institutions such as Howard University and Columbia University including the dental and craniofacial department at the National Institutes of Health.

His online presence eventually proliferated and crystallized his place as a bonafide influencer, ultimately changing his initial trajectory from a dentist to being a full-time creative.

Over time, inspired by his own healing journey, Ali’s content evolved towards a more raw, vulnerable tone, one that delved into the reality of the struggles of his mental health. Amidst a time before the discussion about mental health awareness was commonplace, Tarek Ali has been one of the many Black, queer leaders who have led the charge and helped normalize working towards not just a healthy body, but a healthy mind. 

Now, 10 years into his career, Ali has managed successful longevity through his craft and has no intention of slowing down.

In his first-ever, exclusive interview with Gaye Magazine, Tarek Ali took us on a personal journey from his past to his present and along the way shared the trials that he endured that made him the authentic GLAAD-nominated artist that he is today.

youtuber Tarek Ali young
Tarek Ali

What was the landscape like for Black online creators in the early 2010s? Especially Black, queer creators? 

“It’s so interesting you asked that. This is actually a large portion and theme in my TV pilot that I’m writing right now and when I started, being a YouTuber wasn’t a name, like you weren’t a YouTuber, you just recorded yourself and put it on YouTube. There was no influencer, that wasn’t really a thing.” 

“What we were doing was just sharing our lives. And at that time, I can really count the people on my hand that were Black and queer.” 

“...From the beginning, the OGs was Kingsley, you had Tré Melvin, you had Todrick Hall, and then as time went on you got Denzel Dion, you got Ricky, you got me, you got Zachary Campbell and that was really small. What’s so interesting when you look at that lineup, we all did something completely different. And you know, there was no real landscape. You kind of had to just be yourself. The landscape was you.” 

“...And so if you didn’t have enough in terms of personality or something to say or something to show, people didn’t stay tuned in.” 

“So that’s why you still see people today from that time, still doing things because they’re full of it, they’re going to keep expressing it in different ways really.” 

What made you veer off from your original path of wanting to become a doctor, making YouTube videos, and then eventually going on to become an influencer? 

“For me, all my life I have been in the arts. So when I was younger, I did plays at church. I wrote plays at home and had my siblings act it out. I’ve always been an artist, so I was trying different ways to make art and to express that side of myself.” 

“I was homeless and juggled through homes in my childhood so I just did it where I could here and there, but when my uncle [and aunt] took me in…my first year there my aunt was like 'we do internships in the summer, we don’t just lay around'.” 

“So I got into healthcare. I was already a nerd, I love learning, and I love helping people. I identify my purpose as being a healer now, but I’ve always been that. I loved healthcare, but on the side I did YouTube.” 

“I knew I always wanted to be an artist, I had to just find a way to get that art out of me. And then when I was ready, I was able to make a business out of it..."

Early on in your videos, you started with giving your personal experiences, such as college life, scholarship advice, etc..., then there was a shift centering towards mental health where you talk about dealing with Blackness, queerness, and body image. 

Was mental health your focus from the beginning or did the content evolve towards that area? 

“My content has always been a reflection of me and what I’m doing and what I’m going through. When I was in high school, [my video] was about how to get a full ride, how to write an essay, then when I went to college, I was doing beauty.” 

“After I graduated I began following my dream and I moved to LA. I was waking up and there wasn't anyone to tell me what to do. I got into therapy and I realized I had to start asking these questions of myself that were [hard to answer], in order for me to live... I had to heal.” 

“And going through all of the trauma I went through…mental health became my life. I woke up every day and I had to have a routine to have peace. Coming from science and understanding psychology in a different way…I just got very, very passionate about how to heal myself.” 

“I started sharing it just because I was excited about how it was helping me. Then I saw how much it was helping people and how much that filled me up, and I was like, oh, I want to amplify that. I want to keep doing that.” 

Recently you decided to create your own podcast last year, THAT Conversation with Tarek Ali. When you were talking about giving people the full scope of what healing looks like, is that the reason why you started the podcast? 

“This is going to sound like a crazy story every time I say it, you know, because people ask. I did not start this podcast with any goal in mind. Like, when I say no goal, I was not sharing it. The only people who were tuned in were like super fans.” 

“In the beginning, that’s why in the first couple of episodes, there’s no visuals, because I had stopped doing social media for a year or two. I was experiencing a lot of hate and dragging online and it did a lot to my mental health. I was also in an abusive relationship and I was also in my healing journey.” 

“With everything going on online, I started to tremble in front of the camera. I was really afraid of the camera for a while.” 

“I was literally shaking and scared and just doing it to practice getting used to and comfortable with speaking and sharing again. That’s why there was so much time in between each episode because it was actually healing…coming back.” 

“Then, when I started bringing on other people and healing them, it naturally became what it is.”

How did it feel getting GLAAD nominated for Outstanding Podcast, especially at this time?  

“I’m gonna be really honest. I’m so used to being overlooked. I literally was just talking to a friend about how that was a blessing. That being overlooked all these years was intentional by God..." 

“Through not being seen or not feeling like I was seen or not being appreciated in the way that I felt like I should have been, it required me to value myself and my work in a way where I know my power regardless of a nomination.” 

Looking back, did you still see yourself still making videos 10 years later? 

“I didn’t see influencers or YouTubers in that space over there with films and TV shows. So I thought I would have to quit YouTube. God was like, 'no we’re going to use all of that'.” 

“There were superpowers in what I have been doing in the last 10 years that I didn’t know. You don’t go platform to platform for 10 years and people [still] love you and care. There’s magic in that, it’s not coincidental.” 

In the future, what can we expect from Tarek Ali? 

“You can expect more from the podcast. The podcast is going to continue growing in ways that you wouldn’t see or think.” 

“I’m going to keep healing. I’m a healer. Everything I do, anything you see Tarek Ali on or attached to there will be healing involved."

"I’m working on my pilot right now, which I’ll be starring. I wrote another pilot that won’t come out sometime later. My book will be announced this year and a film. I’m excited, I’m feeling blessed and this is why I’m taking my time with it. I want to do it right.” 

Starting out as an aspiring doctor, then achieving YouTube stardom, and now as a L.A based multi-hyphenate, Tarek Ali continues to grow in every sense of the word. By leading through example and action, he makes it known that elevation is his standard. From the computer screen to the small screen to the big screen you WILL see Tarek Ali! 

Watch our full exclusive interview with Tarek Ali:


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