Ubah Ali was talkative growing up. Her siblings called her nosy.
Now, she’s putting those skills to good use as the first Somali American on-air TV reporter in the Twin Cities after being hired by WCCO, where she was an intern in 2017.
The 27-year-old is back in Minnesota after spending two years working as a reporter at Milwaukee TV station TMJ4. In an interview for TMJ4, reporter Carole Meekins noted that Ali was the first on-air reporter in Wisconsin to wear a hijab. Ali told Meekins that she went back and forth about whether to wear a hijab on air while interning at KARE 11, and decided to wear one after a mentor talked to her about presenting a consistent look to the audience.
Ali was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and her family immigrated to Rochester when she was a little over a year old.
During her junior year of high school in Rochester, Ali participated in a mentorship program and told her counselor she wanted to explore journalism. She was placed in the Mayo Clinic’s public affairs department, which she loved for the opportunity to tell stories, even if some of the medical jargon went over her head.
Ali attended St. Cloud State University to pursue journalism. After honing her skills at St. Cloud State’s student-run TV station, UTVS, and internships with KARE 11 and WCCO, she graduated and landed a job at KTTC TV in Rochester.
In the short time since her hiring in September at WCCO, she’s been overwhelmed with positive messages from the Somali and Muslim communities. Ali works the day shift on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the evening shift Thursday through Saturday.
“My mom has been inundated with calls and people saying, ‘Oh, we’re so excited!’” Ali said. “So it’s been nothing but welcoming vibes. Everyone’s just been super excited that I’m here and that they finally get to see a Somali American hijabi on American TV in the Twin Cities.”
Hadeal Rizeq, a Muslim woman studying journalism at the University of Minnesota, said stress and anxiety were interfering with her classes around the time Ali was hired at WCCO. Hearing news of her hiring reminded Rizeq of her dream of becoming a journalist, and inspired her to push forward.
“Oh my God, just seeing other hijabi women makes me feel so happy inside,” Rizeq said. “In terms of a Muslim woman just getting into the field, it’s just really exciting. We’re empowering generations to come and I feel like it’s finally about time.”
Ali said if she could give advice to young Muslim women in journalism, it would be to hone their skills and to persevere.
“You’ll run into a lot of nos, but don’t let that deter you,” she said. “That’s something I wish someone would have told me. My mom says what’s meant for you will be––it’s so true to me. There was a lot of nos in the beginning. I persevered, and here I am.”
Ali hopes she can report more stories on people who have never been in front of a camera.
“That’s something I strive for, because we get into this cycle of interviewing the same people over and over again,” she said. “So anytime someone says, ‘It’s my first interview,’ I just get super giddy and excited, no matter the topic.”
Outside of work, Ali loves to travel. She’s been to destinations such as the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. But she described one trip in particular as “incredible”—her first time visiting Somalia in 2017.
Ali was a recent college graduate at the time, and was asked by her aunt where she wanted to travel. After Ali said Dubai, her aunt suggested they also fly to Somalia because it was only a 4 1/2 hour flight away. Ali agreed.
“I went, landed in Mogadishu, and I had the best time,” she said. “They have the most beautiful beaches, they’ve got the best food. Everything is authentic, organic. The people are so vibrant.”
The trip was also a great opportunity for her to be nosy and listen in on everyone’s conversations, she said. One thing that stood out to her in Somalia and some other countries she’s visited was how much less people focused on time.
“In America, in my opinion, we’re so honed in on time,” Ali said. “Like, at this time I’m going to do this, at this time I’m going to have lunch, and at this time I’m going to have dinner. When I’ve traveled internationally, time doesn’t make anyone think of what to do next, they just live life.”
Ali added that she walked away from the Somalia trip with a better understanding and appreciation of her mom’s efforts immigrating to the United States with no English language skills.
When her family visited the Twin Cities from Rochester, Ali said her mother always brought them to Karmel Mall, a Somali shopping center in south Minneapolis. She’s excited to explore more of the Twin Cities and the restaurants they have to offer now that she’s back in Minnesota.
Looking ahead to the winter, Ali said she’s excited to try something new: snowboarding.
“It’s something I feel like I should check off my list,” she said. “So I’m working on it. This winter is my winter.”