Tony Weaver, Jr. is the CEO of Weird Enough Productions, recent Forbes 30 under 30 nominee, and TEDx speaker. Weird Enough Productions combats misrepresentation of minority groups by featuring unique and diverse heroes to help people of all backgrounds and circumstances recognize their own power. Adii and Tony discuss social entrepreneurship, interplay between business and art, the importance of honest conversations with oneself, the “why” of business, and the impact of influencers and the danger of idolizing the wrong people.
Tony founded Weird Enough Productions with the idea of creating a social impact organization that would use the power of stories to change the world. Weird Enough’s comic book, The UnCommons (available in print and on Webtoon) which features a diverse cast of characters, tells the story of unlikely outsiders who must band together to save each other in order to ultimately save the world.
Currently, The UnCommons has a readership of 350,000 and growing. If such reach were not impactful enough, Tony and Weird Productions have ensured that their influence does not stop there. They have also created educational products and activities for teachers to use in classrooms to promote confidence, self-esteem, and self-control.
“What if we created this haven for the next generation of storytellers? Where these unique stories were not only being told, but we were able to leverage those stories in a way that creates clear and measurable social impact?”
When you think about the word “weird,” everybody has an extent to which they like and even encourage it. However, there are limits. We only like some kinds of weird, Tony says. A line is always drawn to delineate what amount of “weird” is good and to which degree it is no longer acceptable. Often, the line is drawn by others, rather than ourselves—and when we are designated as “too weird,” we are alienated.
Tony was considered the weird kid growing up because of his interest in anime and comics. He allowed others to define what his weird was, and that’s why he feels a calling to help children who may feel the same way he did to “own their weird”.
“As long as you pursue your personal truth, you’re never too weird. You’re just weird enough… It’s not about what other people tell you about yourself. It’s the line that you set for yourself.”
Being honest with oneself is crucial in embracing their weird—in building confidence in one's interests, likes, and passions. Have a conversation with yourself, Tony suggests. Explore your weird and accept it as a part of what makes you unique.
In the age of social media we are always looking toward views, likes, engagements, conversions—especially in business. It greatly affects one's self worth when we connect our own validity to these metrics. Because social media is such a huge part of business, especially Weird Enough Productions’ business, Tony finds he can’t just “not think about it” because of the leverage it holds over his business’ success.
Before starting any project or pursuit, consider what you are doing and why you are doing it. The “why” can change for every person. Regardless of the why, you must ask, is it coming from the right place? If yes, Tony says, then you’re certainly weird enough.
Tony has lost his “why” before, he says. It is easy to be swept up in the clout and engagement and begin making decisions based on that, rather than on your initial vision. To escape this he had to realign himself and ask what truly bred life into him, what initially set him on his path.
If you’re misaligned from the get-go, you won’t suddenly become aligned. Intention--the “why”--is key to any successful pursuit in business and life.
“There needs to be a place of genuine alignment where you feel aligned with your work, and you feel in touch with the community that you’re creating that work for. And if that alignment isn’t there, what should come naturally becomes work; it becomes grating.”
Starting Weird Enough when he was 19, now 26, Tony has certainly had time to grow along with his organization. Often, his age has played a large part in carrying him off course, away from his vision. There is a lot of pressure on youth to scale mountains, and often he found he was more focused on accomplishment than on what it was that he was accomplishing.
He felt he’d developed this “unicorn” persona of a young accomplished person, finding his name on lists and articles. Now he understands that the pressure to be young, successful--and to do so at break-neck speeds--is very toxic. Growth requires time; it cannot be forced or congested.
Tech enables a commodified story of the creator, Tony says. The internet touts a false narrative about success and the idea if you’re not successful you’re simply not “hustling” hard enough. A picture is painted that leaves a number of crucial factors in the shadows.
Riot Games, creators of League of Legends, didn’t make money for ten years, Tony says. Many people give up on their businesses after just one year and wonder why they didn’t get their big break. In actuality, success doesn’t happen overnight, despite the false narratives often told that ignore the journey in favor of a shinier, redacted reality.
Part of Weird Enough’s work with schools involves working on confidence and helping kids understand the false, negative, and misrepresentative media that often affects self image in children...especially in young girls.
When it comes to influencers, it's less about the person and more about what the person represents.
In The UnCommons, there is a character named Influencer. He has millions of fans—though he is not a fan of himself. The main character, Iris, goes to Influencer for help informing the world that everyone is in danger. Iris knows that they will more likely listen to him as an influencer.
The situation with all these entrepreneurs and influencers we idolize is that it’s more about a brand and persona--or image. That image is used to exploit insecurities to sell a product or an idea.
In the end, it is less about the influencer themself, and more about what the person sees in the influencer. And ultimately, less about the content, and more about what the content provides, and the value prescribed to the content by the audience.
Donald Glover had a huge influence on Tony growing up. When he saw Donald he saw another weird Black kid he could relate to. Seeing Donald Glover succeed helped him pave a path he could take to succeed as well.
Influencers aren’t all bad; they can help us cross bridges that we believe we cannot cross without them. Tony doesn’t want to act like he hates all influencers, but he certainly believes that we shouldn’t have to rely on influencers for our own validation and growth.
Tony never wanted to become a brand. However, he has found himself doing so in order to create something he thought the world needed. He wants to help kids, to create representation where it is lacking, and to make change.
There is a mental health crisis for Black youth in the United States. Not seeing familiar representation in the media as a child certainly affected Tony’s mental health. It is his hope that today’s and future generations will not have this same experience.
Tony wants to use his platform to help kids see their value and grow their self-esteem and self-worth. In order to do so, he has to commodify himself. However, this is a sacrifice he is very willing to make if it means helping these kids.
Tony is creating role models in his work with Weird Enough Productions through projects like The UnCommons, while also becoming a role model in his own right. As a storyteller, he has a way to make change and he has certainly taken great strides toward doing so.
Weird Enough Productions tries to champion the idea that each person has a unique and individual experience. We should learn from one another, Tony says, but we shouldn’t compare our journey to that of others. Tony’s advice to all parents is to help their children any way they can to embrace their weird.