Self-proclaimed “Jesus freak” and social media influencer Karren Atakora recently sat down with me to discuss her virtual empire, her transition into podcasts and her love for God. Since uploading her first video in 2017, she has amassed 142,000 subscribers on YouTube at just 21 years old. Her videos revolve around her journey with religion, college, lifestyle and more. This year she also branched out into podcasting with her weekly show, “Welcome to the Kingdom” where she goes more in depth about a variety of different subjects ranging from substances and relationships to her childhood and religion. Most recently she created a streetwear brand titled “deathtoself” with its first pieces having dropped on October 1. In addition to her entrepreneurial ventures, she is also a senior studying public health here at the University of Massachusetts.
What is your relationship with UMass like? Do you think attending school here has affected your social media content at all?
“I love UMass, I feel like the first year is always the hardest, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. I can’t imagine going anywhere else and I feel like I’ve met the people that I was meant to meet. It became a part of my identity now. The first two years here gave me something to talk about, something to show and document. Coming here was something that propelled my channel a little bit, because it was such a highly sought out school. It gave me content, because there was something going on all the time.”
UMass is featured heavily in your YouTube content, but recently you have extended your social media reach beyond YouTube by starting your podcast “Welcome to the Kingdom.” Why did you decide to move into podcasting?
“I personally love listening to podcasts. The same way I started a [YouTube] channel is kind of the same way I started a podcast. I was watching girls on YouTube vlogging their life and I was like, ‘Why watch other people when I can have other people watch me?’ So, same thing with podcasts, I felt like there’s not a lot of things you can say on YouTube, but with a podcast it’s much longer so you can get everything you want to say out. I think it’s also more personal because there’s not much editing going on. You can’t really manipulate what the audience hears, it’s what you say. There’s certain parts of my identity that people can relate to that are not often [seen,] especially in the podcast space. I didn’t really see anybody like me, I was only listening to white girls, honestly, I didn’t know of any Ghanaian or African young adult podcast person. So, I was like, I can do this and have other people listen to my experiences as well.”
Expanding into the podcasting world has made your social media presence bigger than it was before. How does that expansion affect you as a person?
“I do the podcast for me, talking about stuff that I’m going through helps me, it serves as an outlet. I normally record them on a Sunday night, and I’ll be reflecting on my week, or maybe something specific that happened, or a part of my childhood I never got to talk about or just different aspects of my life that I never had the chance to process and really talk through. I always think that whatever you go through, you go through to be able to help somebody else go through it. Getting feedback from people gave me a chance to know that words can be healing. It also helped me separate myself from experiences that I go through, because with YouTube, you tend to record the best parts and edit them, making it look really fun. But with the podcast, when I’m talking about really personal stuff, I isolate myself from that experience. I think it’s normal in society to hold on to something that happened to you, you don’t want to share it, you want to hold on to it, and you want to make it yours. But when you realize that your experiences aren’t yours, they’re actually there to serve a purpose, you’re like, ‘Okay, although I went through this, it’s not who I am, but I get to talk about it and help somebody else going through it too.’
Speaking of your personal life, how do you make time for yourself outside of school and social media?
“It’s really hard, especially when people are relying on your life for entertainment. Recently, I’ve been leaving my camera more often at home and just learning to be in a moment without pulling it out or having people watching us. Also, giving myself days off where I don’t have to go on social media really helps. Although it’s really hard, because I need to know what people are doing so that I can be in the loop as well.”
Your religion is a huge part of your life, is it a part of your personal time as well?
“I’m always in the spiritual headspace, I don’t even see it as something that I have to do separately. It’s something that I’m constantly doing.”
You’ve brought religion into the other aspects of your whole brand, particularly with the “deathtoself” clothing line and YouTube video series, could you touch on that?
“With social media, you’re always trying to get the best numbers, get the most views, the most followers and it’s always like more, more, more. There was a time where I would get like 500 views, and I’d be so happy. And then I found myself getting sad over like 10,000, lack of gratitude and all that, I just realized that it was never enough. I always felt like I had to do more, or be more or look better or do better all the time. And I realized it was coming from a lack of insecurity, low confidence, always seeking something. I’ve always been Christian my whole life, but in the summer, I really realized none of this is ever going to be fulfilling other than God. I felt like God is the only thing that’s going to be fulfilling for me. So, ‘death to self’ came about because in the Bible it says you have to die to yourself basically. You have to die to your flesh, meaning you have to let go of the things that you know are so fun to do but are against what the word of God says. All these little pleasures, or greed or jealousy or lust or anger and all these things that we tend to have, you have to leave that if you truly want to follow God wholeheartedly, and that’s what I wanted to do. I deleted Instagram and everything for a month to go on this “deathtoself” journey, which was me trying to become a new person and trying to let go of all my old behaviors. It felt like death because I couldn’t do the things that I used to enjoy doing and all these things that I had to let go of.”
Keep up with Karren here, and listen to “Welcome to the Kingdom” here.
Nic Roy can be reached at [email protected]