“The thing that makes you weird is the thing that makes you powerful.”
Tony Weaver Jr. is not a typical C.E.O.
For one thing, he founded a media company – Weird Enough Productions – at the age of 20.
Weird Enough is a social impact organization that produces comics. Tony is the creator of their flagship webcomic series, “The UnCommons.”
The Uncommons tells the story of “five unlikely outsiders that must save each other to save the world from disaster.”
More importantly (what could be more important than saving the world from disaster?), the comics create “new media narratives for minorities that challenge the status quo.”
That’s because Weird Enough is dedicated to creating positive media images of black men and other minority groups in the media.
Additionally, Tony is also an award-winning writer and educator who is convinced that “comics can improve social-emotional learning, literacy, and digital citizenship.”
To help educators tap into the power of comics, Tony launched Get Media L.I.T. It’s a free-of-charge educational platform with comic-based lesson plans that educators can access via an app.
The app contains a library of comics featuring The Uncommons in vignettes of their everyday lives as superheroes, faced with decisions ranging from the mundane to the world-altering.
The comics are part of a visually engaging lesson with questions and classroom activities that students can complete as a class, in small groups, or individually.
The app has already impacted over 40,000 students across 14 states (in the U.S.). Educators report it improves students’ media literacy and overall reading literacy.
Comics are a powerful medium.
They speak forcefully to young (and not-so-young) people.
Tony wants to use the power of comics to change cultural narratives and empower kids to become the heroes of their own stories.
A little background
When Tony Weaver Jr. was a kid, he loved superheroes and comic books.
And although he loved to dress up like his heroes, he quickly realized that none of them looked like him.
“My skin was too dark; my hair was the wrong texture,” he recalls.
The realization made him feel like he “would never be quite right.”
Over time, these feelings led to the decline of his self-esteem and mental health.
This almost cost him his life, and he shares that he attempted suicide in his teens.
Thankfully, he recovered, going on to graduate high school and attend college.
At university, Tony began volunteering at an elementary school.
He mentored a boy named Nazir who, like him, loved comics.
Tony saw Nazir struggling with a predicament that Tony understood.
On Halloween, Nazir didn’t feel like he could dress up as any of his favorite superheroes because he didn’t look like them.
Nazir decided to dress up as C.J. from Grand Theft Auto.
“The same child that wanted to be a hero, that wanted to create change, felt like the only person he could be was the main character of a video game where you kill people, steal things, and run away from police.”
Tony understood there is a problem with representation in the media, including the media designated for children.
The media perpetuated narratives that skin color determines whether one gets to be a hero or a villain.
These narratives actually get played out in reality.
As a result, Black male Americans are 2.5 times more likely to get killed by the police than their white counterparts.
Tony decided to change the narrative and empower kids to become the heroes of their own stories.
What did he do?
With “one weird idea” and after winning $500 from a college pitch competition, Tony Weaver Jr. started Weird Enough in 2014.
The company’s mission of creating positive media images of black men and other minority groups was born in urgency, given the events of Ferguson, Missouri, in August of that year.
Today, Tony has raised over one million dollars and has a diverse staff worldwide.
He is convinced that his idea was “just Weird Enough.”
Tony explains that the media company “creates adventurous, imaginative comics that inspire readers, and builds educational curricula. Weird Enough’s comic, The UnCommons, tells stories of unlikely outsiders finding their place.
And its educational platform, Get Media L.I.T., let comics evolve from stories to full-fledged educational programming. It’s a youth-centered curriculum that centers literacy, social, emotional learning, and digital citizenship.”
The UnCommon series has a demanding publishing schedule.
The comics are released online – free – three times a week.
Regularly generating new content is critical; it allows kids and teenagers to see themselves routinely portrayed as heroes in the media.
Why do comics matter?
Tony Weaver Jr. has found a way to create diverse stories that validate the experience of young people.
Kids and teenagers can imagine that they are the heroes of their own stories.
They can feel seen and valued.
And by generously sharing elements of his own personal journey with vulnerability in his work, he is reshaping “the narrative” in a powerful way for countless people.
He is changing lives.
Selected as Forbes “30 under 30” and leading his own Ted Talk, Tony is also spreading awareness of the importance of positive media representation to a broader audience.
Want to know more?
Visit Weird Enough on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter
And follow the Uncommons: “Iris is a West African teen who’s been gifted with Second Sight, a mystical ability that lets her see energies, details, and outcomes. She thought she’d seen everything until, one day, her eyes showed her a vision of a calamity that threatens the entire world.
Determined to fight fate, she travels to the futuristic tech hub of Delta City to stop the threat before it begins.
As the odds grow against her, she uncovers allies to help turn the tide. However, in the shadows, a select few prepare to build a new world on the ashes of the old.
Will Iris and her allies prove uncommon enough to change the fate of everything?
Or will her vision be the last thing any of them see?..”
Feature image credit – Bob Gore