Tony Weaver, Jr.: Spreading Self-Acceptance, one Book at a Time

By Sebastian Castro

Tony Weaver, Jr. is an award-winning author, public speaker, social media influencer, and CEO of the nonprofit Weird Enough Productions, a “social impact organization that uses diverse stories to empower young people and the adults that support them.” Weaver made history in 2018 as the first comic writer to make it onto the prestigious Forbes “30 under 30” list. He’s received accolades from many notable organizations, being named a “History Shaker” by Coca Cola, a “Global Barrier Breaker” by Marriott International, and a “Champion for Change” by CNN.

Weaver has gained widespread recognition for The Uncommons, a bombastic fantasy action comic series featuring Black lead characters, distributed in partnership with Webtoon.

“It tells a story of a group of unlikely outsiders that have to save each other to save the world,” Weaver said.

The series draws heavy inspiration from Japanese anime and manga. Weaver recounts his first experience with anime as a child. Flipping through TV channels, he found himself drawn to the expressive art style, but the only anime available to him was through Toonami, a Cartoon Network programming block featuring anime that only aired at 1am. Weaver, imbued with the determination only a 12-year-old could muster, resolved to stay up late one night to catch it. One accidental nap later, Weaver woke up just in time to watch an episode of the 2005 series Eureka Seven.

“It was like nothing I’d ever watched before,” Weaver said. “It was mind blowing.”

Weaver’s fascination moved him beyond mere obsession.

“It was somebody’s job to write that,” Weaver said. “I can do what this show just did for me for millions of people. If that’s a job that somebody can have, that’s the one that I want.”

This incident served as an important catalyst in Weaver’s journey as a storyteller, and is depicted in Weirdo, his upcoming book. Weirdo follows the story of Weaver’s life, framed through his struggles to fit in when he moves to a new school. The comic tackles themes of mental health, fitting in, and education.

Weirdo was this look into the mind of a kid desperately trying to become himself,” Weaver said. “It’s also a look into an academic system that is purposely built to cause a lot of kids, especially kids of color to lose themselves.”

As a child, Weaver was moved into a new school to expose him to a “better” education. However, as Weaver explains, this concept comes with baggage.

“Especially with Black kids, when we want them to excel, what we end up doing is removing them from the communities where they’re actually from in search of ‘better opportunities.’ They end up in places where there are fewer people like them, where there are fewer people trained to educate them, and where there are fewer tools to accommodate them,” Weaver said.

Weaver’s mother had long worked in public education, first as a math teacher, then as an assistant principal, then finally as a principal.

“There was a point in time where my mom’s office was a three-digit extension on the phone at the front of every classroom that I was at. People in the county knew my mom. And yet, I still fell through the cracks,” Weaver said.

He speaks to his experience with education and his nuanced understanding of how the American education system can sometimes fall short.

“From a very young age, kids are told that in order to find success in their lives and end up on a path that they and their parents can be proud of, they have to sacrifice themselves to make that happen. I don’t think that has to be true. I think that we live in a world where kids can be courageous enough to find all the success that they want, while also being true to themselves at the same time. That’s the big theme that I hope the book brings home,” Weaver said.

Weaver’s struggles in school contributed to his struggles with mental health as a child. He hopes that his writing can provide children in similar situations not only solace and comfort, but a model of how to process their emotions. Weaver felt this was important, particularly for children of color.

“All these conversations that we’re currently having around social emotional learning, for the most part, do not incorporate the fact that the Black community is struggling with that in a very specific way. Culturally, there aren’t a lot of tools for us to talk about therapy; there aren’t ways for Black boys to break down how to react when they need help, or how to react when they’re experiencing some sort of deep pain, or when there’s anger that they don’t know how to process,” Weaver said.

Weaver noted that Black youth had disproportionally had the largest jump in depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts over the last four years. According to a study by the CDC, this is true. Weaver hopes that Weirdo can help shed light on this issue.

“I don’t think a lot of people are talking about mental health for Black kids specifically,” Weaver said. “Weirdo offers a good first step for all of those issues.”

Weaver has worked with schools across the country to implement his work into lesson plans and curricula centered around social emotional learning, media literacy, digital literacy, and 21st century skills. On top of the inherent value of teaching children essential life skills, Weaver feels it important that kids of all backgrounds be exposed to stories from a Black perspective.

“As a Black writer, something I’m very cognizant of is that my story is going to enter communities where there aren’t a lot of Black people or Black kids. There is going to be a non-trivial amount of kids who are going to pick up Weirdo, and for the first time, be able to relate to a Black character,” Weaver said. “One of the really powerful things about stories is that it can connect you with people and communities that you don’t have an organic relationship to. That’s a very significant hurdle that needs to be jumped over when we talk about establishing equity.”

Weirdo uses the power of storytelling to take a universal struggle, of grappling with self-esteem and confidence, and give kids the tools they need to process their emotions.

“No matter who you are, no matter what happens in your life, the darkness will come,” Weaver said. “But on the other side of that darkness, is a light, a community, a life of joy and abundance. Weirdo is intended to be a tiny lantern to help kids get through the light.”

Weirdo is available for pre-order and releases Sept. 17.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *