Prominent communications and digital media player and Burbank resident, Wadooah Wali, is using her powerful storytelling abilities to raise awareness on the subjects of mental health and media inclusivity.
Originally born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Wali relocated to the West Coast after obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida in Tampa. While she got her start in PR and communications living in San Francisco, Wali eventually ended up settling in Southern California. After this transition, she took on gigs such as developing the health and wellness section of The Lance Armstrong Foundation’s Livestrong.com and creating her own documentary, called “Gaze of the Beholder.” The 2013 indie doc examined beauty standards and body image through candid interviews asking subjects about their perception of beauty.
“I would… just ask people, ‘Can you look in the mirror and say that you’re beautiful?’ And people have such a hard time [with that],” Wali said. “If you can’t say that you’re beautiful, how can you expect the press or the media,…[or] anybody else to say that you’re beautiful unless you’re showing up for yourself?”
The film went on to win 3rd place in the feature documentary category at the Capital City Black Film Festival in 2013, as well as Best Editing of a Documentary Feature at the 2014 St. Tropez International Film Festival. The positive reception of the documentary, paired with the chance to use her platform to tell a meaningful story, made the experience a transformative one in Wali’s career.
“The process of doing that movie really changed my life,” Wali said. “It was really healing and cathartic, and just a beautiful journey.”
In 2017, Wali moved to Burbank to take on a role as Director of Corporate Communications with WarnerMedia. The position granted Wali a chance to contribute to a grand media platform while addressing subjects which are passions of her own, such as gender, race, and LGBTQ+ inclusivity. One manifestation of this focus came in the form of Wali partnering WarnerMedia’s TNT channel with TurnOut, an organization which serves to strengthen LGBTQ+ community support.
“It was really exciting to see [WarnerMedia] invest in things like the importance of telling stories with women in front of and behind the camera, and not just women, but people of diverse backgrounds,” Wali said. “Using my place in corporate communications, I was able to really drive what the company was about across these great causes and issues.”
Her part at WarnerMedia also brought Wali joy in becoming a Burbank resident, as she appreciates exploring the small-town charm of the City and supporting local businesses, such as Kings Deli and Handy Market. Although her career has taken her to numerous major cities across the country, she still prefers Burbank as her home base.
“I love Burbank,” Wali said. “It’s going on four years now that I’ve been in Burbank and I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere any time soon… it just feels like home.”
Most recently, Wali has lent her media knowledge to contribute to The Shift, a program which uses digital platforms to put an end to stigma regarding mental illness for youth. This includes conversations with teens and young adults sharing their personal experiences with mental health, which Wali feels is pertinent to healing issues stemming from past trauma. She personally has overcome difficulties after a childhood with a parent who was abusive and had substance issues by asking for help and making use of the resources around her.
“To look back on the fact that I was able to get here to where I am, to live this incredible life, to be able to travel, to tell the stories that I want to, is based on the fact that I actually did seek out help at different times of my life,” Wali said. “It’s just having that wherewithal to know, ‘I need help. I need to talk about this.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The Shift is holding two upcoming virtual Mental Wellness Rallies in May to honor Mental Health Awareness Month, one of which is focused on Los Angeles County. The event, which is in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is set to take place on May 1. It will provide the community with youth-oriented discussions on mental wellness in which participants can register to contribute their input. Applicable resources and strategies for further support from mental wellness organizations will also be presented during the rally.
As an African American woman and an LGBTQ+ community member, Wali notes that there is still work that needs to be done in normalizing open dialogues on mental health within these communities. The rallies have been built to start this change with young people who may find self-assurance in knowing that they are not alone in any mental issues they face.
“The African American community is changing, but there’s still a lot of stigma around speaking around mental health issues,” Wali said. “What’s also unique about the LGBT community is that there is a lot of trauma that comes around that… [with] The Shift Wellness Rallies…we want to just supercharge a movement of people to be empowered to feel good about themselves.”
Now freelancing in communications and production from her home office in Burbank, Wali has found a happy medium amongst the business, philanthropic and creative sides of her occupation.
“I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose,” Wali said. “I’m getting some goodness in the world…[and I’m] able to connect people,… to empower them, get them excited, get them to lean into different things that are important.”