The story of how I met Yo Akalu is an interesting one. When we're growing up, we're generaly taught not to speak to strangers and often times that mentality lingers longer than we might want to as adults but if I lived by that principal now, you would probably never see as many portraits as I share because they've all stemmed from my interest in meeting new people.
I was heading home in a haste one evening after an exciting yet exhuasting shoot with a friend new The High Line around the Meat Packing District in New York when I came across Yo. What initiated my interest to approach her was having been partially convinced that she was @mankofit, a fitness expert based in New York who's also taken the industry and social media by storm. It obviously ended up not being her but instead this young 5'9 ambitions woman who left her life in Seattle to pursuse her dreams in New York and is often referred to as the Ethiopian Princess.
We had the opportunity to link up a few days after where we chatted more about her life, her aspirations and ultimately I walked away very grateful for how remarkably candid she was was about everything. My friends were quite suprise I had even met her and I guess I worked to my advantage the fact that I was unaware of who she was because then I probably wouldn't have been as confident in approaching her.
1. So where are you originally from?
Originally from Ethiopia but I’ve been living here int the states for practically the majority of my life.
2. How did you start off in modeling and is there anything you feel you've learned from industry that easily applies to life in general?
I was playing college basketball and friends set me up to make me believe we we're going shopping for some new kicks but ended up taking me to Americas Next Top Model casting... I hated it, hahaha.. I'm not a fan of television in general but seeing the girls auditioning gave me a little kick. I love to challenge myself, so I took it as such. Then everyone started calling me “Top Model hooper"...
3. What is one monumental moment growing up that you feel shaped who you are today?
Back when I still lived in Ethiopia, having watched my mother stand up to some armed soldiers who had barged into our house demanding my mother to surrender her possessions which at the time was a little bit of gold and money. Of course she refused and pleaded with them in that this was all she owned in order to feed her kids and that they would have to kill and drag her out before they can do it.
So one soldier took the rifle and smacked my mother across the face with it. I was absolutely stunned at my mom’s resilience. She got up and instinctively attacked back and of course her defensive mode came up short but that was one of my "I met a real life superhero moment".... which I will never forget because it molded me into the woman I am today... “I’m a f**king fighter”. I love when people tell me “no”. I love when people doubt me. All my life people have doubted me & told me that America was going to eat me alive that I won't ever be sh*t and I won't amount to sh*t because I came from a Third World country. No one believed in me, seriously.. No one. Except my mom and because of the sacrifice she made for me and showed me that woman are as strong as men and we all breathe the same, makes my heartbeats a little differently then others...
4. Thinking big picture, what are your goals at the moment? What's your vision for where you hope to be in a couple years?
More than anything to graduate pharmacy school. Also to travel the world and help people. I just want to give a little of my light to the unfortunates who have never discovered happiness and peace. I don't care about money, living rich, exclusive Cinderella weddings & blah blah blah. F*ck than!, I just want to help people. I have to. I always have. My mother says I have a weak heart sometimes, which I’m begging to think she’s right.
I sometime feel my heart beats irregularly and that it has a brain of its own. I would love to one day open a few 5 Star homeless shelters. Why can't they live in 5 stars too, with 5 star meals, and 5 star assistance? I want to Help people find happiness with little or nothing they have; give people hope. Go back to Ethiopia and rebuild my country. I start there, at my home first... Where I learn to master the art of rebuilding and reshaping lives and take my experience to the rest of Africa. I'll be damned to see my people struggle and suffer without me doing everything and anything in my power to help.
5. For some in the long-boarding community, there is a definite culture surrounding the hobby, so much so that the word "hobby" could easily be replaced with "lifestyle." How did you get hooked on it?
Honestly, my ex boyfriend. Unfortunately I didn’t work out, but I can' never take the fact that he introduced me to this new lifestyle and bought me my first board. I started skating in the streets. I'm a rebel... I've never learned on a sidewalk or a empty parking lot. That's no fun. Then I started learning how to groove on my board.. then I started learning how to bounce on my board and then I learned how to twerk on my board and now I’m straight stunning on my board, hahaha. I refer to my longboard as my ’”Benzo”… a longboard and a Benz had a baby and the universe gave it to me.