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Akilah Hughes is one of the best creators on YouTube today, hands down.
Hilarious, articulate, and multidimensional, Hughes’ channel (Smoothiefreak) is a celebration of storytelling, sarcasm, being yourself, and most importantly, laughing at the misadventures every 20-something is bound to encounter in their life.
Each week, Hughes fills her channel with videos that never fail to brighten even the drabbest of days. Her videos include comedy sketches about how to best survive your 20s in NYC (hint: lots of wine and a onesie), tipsy book reviews with YouTube friends, Scandal sketches, parodies of YouTube trends such as makeup videos and tags, and life talks that are guaranteed to prepare you better for life than any marathon of Sex and the City (trust me on this one).
Although Hughes started her channel and associated blog in January 2006, her first big hit didn’t come until seven years later, when she released “Meet Your First Black Girlfriend”—a video that is not only comedy gold, but also began conversations about race representation across the traditional and social media. From there, Hughes has risen to be one of the most promising talents on the platform, with such fans as John and Hank Green, Franchesca Ramsey, and the Gregory Brothers cheering her on.
One of the most powerful things about Hughes is her ability to make videos that both make people laugh and engage those same viewers on topics such as race representation, racism, and sexism. In a recent article she wrote for Fusion—where she is a full-time staff writer and producer—Hughes examines the serious lack of black creators across the platform and attempts to define YouTube’s role in protecting and engaging underrepresented communities on the platform. Out of the 500 top channels on YouTube, fewer than 30 of them are people of color, proving that Hughes’s points need to be addressed—and quickly. In the article, Hughes writes:
My only wish is that YouTube would hold itself accountable for racism on its platform, and make an effort to signal that diversity and inclusion are things it cares about. After all, 39% of Americans are people of color. Worldwide, people of color are in the majority. Don’t those people deserve to see content that reflects their lives on YouTube?
As part of both the underrepresented communities of women in comedy and creators of color on YouTube, Hughes stands out for her passion for educating and empowering her audience to not settle for YouTube’s status quo. She’s an incredible role model to young YouTube viewers, proving through her work across numerous mediums that the bravest thing people can do is use their voices and talents to change the world into a place little better than when they found it.
Screengrab via Smoothiefreak/YouTube
Carly Lanning is a journalist who covers social media. Her work has been published by Psychology Today, NBC, Thrillist, and Ms. Magazine.