By Shirley Ju
July XX, 2018

                                               STILL NEED PHOTOS

Issa Rae needs no introduction. First garnering attention from her web series on YouTube titled Awkward Black Girl, it was the launch of HBO’s Insecure that pushed the Los Angeles native to the mainstream light. The show, which follows the realities and struggles of racism and social awkwardness from the perspective of a modern-day African-American female, was actually not far off from the Issa Rae in real life.

Issa stands as a role model for all individuals to never fear being themselves and voicing his or her insecurities. Furthermore, this was someone who stood for something greater than herself: black female empowerment.

Last month at AT&T Shape Expo in Burbank, CA, Issa Rae sat down with Instagram comedian Khadi Done to share her story as a successful young creator. The 50-minute conversation was met with much laughter, applause, and inspiration.

At 33 years old, real name Jo-Issa Rae Diop admits if she could go back in time, she would tell her younger self to stop comparing her success to her peers. With Issa being in the position she is now — a television star, a content creator, and a voice of the people — she still faces struggles and setbacks, just like the rest of us.

“There’s definitely challenges, but I feel like most of the challenges are just the challenge of opportunity. Taking the right thing on. I have said ‘yes’ a lot in the past. And then you realize ‘Aw, I got to do this?’ I have to get it done and they want it on a deadline, and I have all these other projects too. In that way, it has been a [challenge] with finding the work/life balance. Especially this past couple of years, I’ve realized that I don’t have a life outside of work. Maintaining that balance is important to me. But I also think these opportunities are slim and may not exist in the future. So that fear is always driving me too. It just feels like everyone is so ready to listen right now and give you a shot. Because people are clamoring for new voices. You just don’t want to say ‘yes’ just to say yes. And I don’t want to let anybody down in that way, or let myself down most importantly.”

If there’s one thing that does keep her motivated, it’s reminiscing on what her life consisted of before pursuing her dreams.

“I think about my old job... I hated waking up to go to that job,” she states. “It felt like I was just wasting time, like ‘Why am I not doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I get there?’ I tell the story about waking up at 8am to get to my job by 9am, and thinking “this is so early!” Just struggling and dragging my feet. Now, I happily wake up at 5am to do something I love. Even just seeing the difference there of wanting to do something. I always think about that whenever I do get frustrated. Like “Girl, you could still be in Koreatown.’”

In regards to people who inspire her, she lists Ava DuVernay, Donald Glover, and Ryan Coogler as “people who take their reins on their own stuff which in turn lifts other people.” She’s not only here to see herself win, but to see other people win. When asked what she liked to do outside of work, she answered with more work.

“I realized I love writing, and I love the editing process,” she reveals. “I feel like that’s so underrated in terms of how much that shapes a story and that shapes the experience. Editors just don’t get enough credit. But I really love the behind-the-scenes aspect more than the in front of the scenes, just because you get to do and play so much. I guess the other side that I really am drawn to is — not the rapping side if music — but the business side. I am very intrigued by that. I have such a love and respect for artists in the industry and music in general. I realize how much of a role it plays in all the productions I do and I’m just trying to figure out what i’m going to do in the music world… that’s not rap.”

And she’s actually just getting started. When asking if she still had dreams, Issa belches out a quick “Hell yes!”

“There’s just so much I want to do, and I don’t want to be limited at all. Even with the entertainment industry, I don’t want to just be limited to just doing film and TV. I want to help other careers for sure, but there’s other areas that I aspire to make a change in. I just really also want to find out what else I’m supposed to do beyond this. Because we get these platforms in a way and people are listening. It’s just like, what else do I want to say of importance or who else do I want to support that’s saying what I want to say? Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m articulate enough to be able to voice what it is I want to say for the change I want to make, so how can we use our platforms to empower other people who are saying what we want to say?”