Antiracist Technology in the US

Selected

Get Media L.I.T.

Online platform using diverse superheroes and comic books for antiracism and social-emotional learning in schools

Team Lead

Tony Weaver

Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Get Media L.I.T.

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One-line solution summary:

We use diverse superheroes and comic books for antiracism and social emotional learning in schools.

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Pitch your solution.

Racial Injustice and Education Inequality have created a mental health crisis for minority students in The US. Due to systemic bias both inside and outside of the classroom, Black and Latino students are falling behind in academic competencies like literacy, and increasing in negative health outcomes like depression, anxiety, and suicide. At Weird Enough, I’ve developed a program that uses superheroes and comic books to improve student literacy and mental health. With diverse comics, my project shows students images of heroes that look like them changing the world in a positive way while improving their literacy levels. Those comics are combined with educational curricula that improve student self-esteem, helps them decode bias, and identify their personal strengths to become heroes in their communities. My project elevates humanity by making sure Black and Latino youth don’t get left behind, and equipping them with the tools needed to be changemakers in their communities. 

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What specific problem are you solving?

The US Education System is in the middle of a youth mental health crisis. According to a Harvard Medical study, a record amount of students lost their lives due to suicide in the last year. Like Nigel Shelby, a 15-year-old who ended his life after homophobic bullying. Hailley Nailor, who jumped five stories to her death after “friends” encouraged her to end her life on Snapchat. Or Seven Bridges, a 10-year-old who hung himself after experiencing bullying. According to The American Medical Association, teen suicide rates are at a 20 year high. As COVID-19 forces schools around the country close their doors, millions of students have been separated from their friends and support systems and greeted with academic uncertainty just to watch people around the world get sick and die. Black students  are faced with a grimmer reality, where they’ve been quarantined only to watch people that look like them being killed, assaulted, and brutalized by police. The education system has not evolved to address the 21st Century emotional needs of students, or the direct mental stress education inequality causes. As a result, our schools are not only failing young people, they’re actively perpetuating harm that could be deadly. 

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What is your solution?

Get Media L.I.T. is an educational program  that uses superheroes and  comic books for antiracism, social emotional learning, and  literacy in schools. It combines diverse comic books that encourage students to be heroes with curricula that fosters greater self esteem, social responsibility, and agency. L.I.T. is an acronym for the programs three lesson categories:  Learn, Inquire, and Transform. “Learn” lessons give students resources for how to tend to their own mental health. Tips for how to deal with things like bullying, social media insecurities, or self doubt. “Inquire” lessons directly focus on shifting student attitudes and beliefs, helping them shed bias and better understand each other. Finally, “Transform” lessons empower students to be heroes in their communities using their unique personal strengths. In “Transform” students create hero projects, where they identify issues and injustices in their communities and strategize how they can combat them.Get Media L.I.T. uses graphic novels to engage students, and leverages social emotional learning as a gateway for positive mental health and community changemaking. We help students learn to love themselves, so they can use that love to help others and their communities. 

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

My project serves low income Black and Latino youth.  2/3rds of students in the US can’t read on grade level. Research shows that if you fall behind on literacy, you tend to stay behind. It also shows that if you aren’t reading on grade level by the 5th grade, you’re 4 times more likely to drop out of high school, and 3.5 times more likely to end up in prison by the age of 25. The students I serve live in a reality where COVID-19 school closures have limited their academic progress , and racial tensions across the US have had devastating effects on their mental health. My project supports them in two ways. By using comics featuring diverse heroes, my project raises literacy levels, writing levels, and gets students exercising the academic skills crucial for their mental development. In addition to that, the comics are partnered with culturally accessible social emotional learning curricula that helps students process difficult emotions, relate to others across lines of difference, and identify personal strengths that can help their communities. My project stops students from being left behind, and empowers them to be the heroes on and off the page. 

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Actively minimize human and algorithmic biases, particularly in healthcare, education, and workplace settings.
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

The last year has made excruciatingly clear how far America has to go when combatting racism. The murder of George Floyd, and the Capital Insurrection make it clear we haven't learned from our past. However, around the country right now there is a purposeful effort to exclude critical race theory from schools. Students of color are suffering, and academia as an institution is stifling students with discrimination instead of empowering them to create the way forward. My solution uses technology to give young people an antiracist and equitable learning environment. 

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Atlanta, GA, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

We're working with over 400,000 students in schools, afterschool programs, and directly across 14 states. 

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Tony Weaver, Jr. Executive Director

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
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What makes your solution innovative?

Our project is unique because of its blend of diverse comics and insightful SEL. Comics  positively impact literacy development for reluctant and advanced readers alike. They contain more rare words and complex sentence structures than traditional prose, and add more complexity to the reading process. Our comics also emphasize diversity. According to The School Library Journal, only 23% of Children's literature features characters of color. There are more books about animals and cars than there are about kids of color. When kids aren’t represented in their learning materials, it undermines their identities. However, our platform uses culturally responsive media that actually represents diverse readers, that make them feel seen and valued. It’s that emphasis that lets us create a unique form of SEL. Rather than positioning SEL as a chore or task to complete with cheap buzzwords like grit and rigor, we’ve developed a full framework rooted in self love and agency. Our inclusion of literacy standards gives us a competitive advantage that makes it significantly easier to break into academic markets.  Through the stories of relatable characters,  students identify their strengths and weaknesses and improve themselves with the impact they have on others and the world in mind. It’s this blend that allows us to heal students' hearts and impact their minds.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Audiovisual Media
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • LGBTQ+
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Urban
  • Low-Income
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 4. Quality Education
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In which states / US territories do you currently operate?

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Washington
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In which states / US territories will you be operating within the next year?

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Washington
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

In the last year we impacted over 1 million students with a team of less than 10. Currently we're finalizing organizational partnerships that I expect to double that number over the course of the next year (2 million). In 5 years I expect us to be serving a minimum of 10 million young people with our programs. 


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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

At scale, my program can help decrease suicide and bullying rates, improve student confidence and self esteem, and help students develop grit and perseverance. It’s hard to quantify that sort of qualitative change. In fact, even The Collaborative Association for Social Emotional Learning (who’s standards we faithfully implement) haven’t managed to accomplish that yet. Even though we  have testimonials and survey data from our initial 4,000 student pilot where teachers expressed that student confidence levels increased after using our program, that kind of data can only get you so far. While the sector continues to innovate how to evaluate SEL success, we rely on other indicators like literacy and digital citizenship. In the same 4,000 student pilot i previously mentioned, 90% of students showed improvements in literacy, and 95% of them demonstrated mastery of the 5 core digital literacy competencies utilized in our program.  I believe we’ll see it individually in each student. . The student that gains the confidence to speak up in class. The student that learns to love what they see when they look in the mirror. The student that learns how to express and process their feelings in a healthy way that doesn’t hurt others. Or when a thats like I was, thinks ending their life is their only option, they’ll realize they have plenty to live for. Until methods are developed that can adequately measure that, we use digital literacy and engagement as our guiding stars. 

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

Five full time staff

Five Part time Staff

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How long have you been working on your solution?

3 years.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

To quote the hit musical Hamilton, The Weird Enough Team is “Young, Scrappy, and Hungry.” It includes myself, Tony Weaver, Jr. an inaugural member of the NBC Universal Diversity Fellowship, a published media literacy researcher, Forbes 30 Under 30 for Education listmaker and award winning comic writer. Our Chief Technology Officer, Yaw Owusu-Ansah, a Ghanain developer that previously founded his own digital solutions firm and retained clients like Blackberry and The University of South Africa. Plus Hannah Lee and Andy Robles Valdez, our immensely talented arts team. Plus we have Joamette Gil, an AfroLatina communications specialist who founded her own press focused on uplifting marginalized voices. Melanie Dukes, an Ivy League educated curriculum specialist focused on working with black and brown students. Finally,  Tim Smyth, who has become known around the country as “The Comic Book Teacher” provides lesson plans and training to teachers on how to incorporate graphic novels into their classrooms. In addition to our team, we have a board of directors that consists of teachers, principals, and superintendents, as well as a youth advisory board that consists of influencers with a cumulative reach of over 5 million.The Weird Enough Productions team is over 90% BIPOC, 55% women, and over 50% LBGTQIA. Among our ranks are people from various parts of the US, and various parts of the world. We’ve managed to strike a perfect balance between youthful innovation and established pedagogy. If there's anyone who can execute this it’s us! 

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

The Weird Enough Productions team is over 90% BIPOC, 55% women, and over 50% LBGTQIA. Among our ranks are people from various parts of the US, and various parts of the world. We endeavor to build a program that can effectively serve young people of all backgrounds, so we’ve built a team that contains the same diversity. Our talent strategy is rooted in recruiting people from diverse backgrounds, with special care taken to seek out applicants that are often overlooked. I think we’ve done well with DEI because it wasn’t something we had to start, it was always there for us. From our inception it played a role in all of our decisions. Longterm my vision for advancing equity internally is making sure my team can be provided with healthcare benefits. In the era we live in, healthcare is massively important, and the types of people that makeup my team are often the type impacted negatively by healthcare scarcity in the US. I think healthcare and benefits are an often overlooked part of internal equity and thats my next step.  

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

Solve would strongly contribute to my project through mentorship, organizational capacity building, and network support. The funding would offer financial security that would be crucial for overcoming our current challenges and securing the team members needed to manage the project.  As my organization scales, the subject matter experts the prize provides will help me grow in ways I’d never be able to independently. Finally, I think the Prize’s focus on meaningfully  amplifying the winners work will be transformative for me as I use branding strategies to secure sustainable funding partners and education partners. 

 I’ve been engaged in this work since I was 19 years old. On each step of my journey I’ve overcome obstacles, developed bold strategies, and displayed crucial leadership skills, which has allowed me to grow from a precocious college activist to a nationally recognized social impact leader. However,  philanthropy is saturated in biases. A study done by Kapor Capital showed black led organizations have 91% less net assets than white organizations doing the same work, while a study from The Echoing Green Foundation showed 93% of Foundation Leaders are white and 75% of them have all white networks. Though I’ve done my best, success in this space requires connections and networks that one can’t “grow” their way into. Solve could open those doors for me, so I can turn the students I work with into heroes too. 

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
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Please explain in more detail here.

The emergence of our new business model has caused catalytic, market based growth. However, to sustain it we must adjust our core assumptions about the role schools will play in our distribution model, and develop a more effective way to grow our userbase. I think solve can connect us with strong supports to solve these problems. 

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

I would like to work with 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize to advance your solution?

With youth depression and suicide rates at a 20 year high, young people, especially young people of color are in need of mental health support more than ever. However, as the country battles with how to address its dark past in the wake of the capital insurrection, a similar fight happens in schools. Schools have consistently struggled with racial equity and mental wellness, and with the pandemic placing even more constraints on their infrastructure, both problems have worsened. More than ever, student of color need mental health tools to cope with the unsafe environments they have to navigate, and education is in need of institutional change so it can better support students of color. As Anti-Black and Anti-Asian sentiments rise across the country, We aim to support students of color with equity based mental health support and equip schools with tools to be safe environments for their students. My organization is seeking funding to meet these needs of these urgent times.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize would help my organization advance our work and impact more young people. 

 
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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The ASA Prize to advance your solution?

We believe social emotional learning will enable the student agency, and understanding that leads to strong career choices. Rather than positioning SEL as a chore or task to complete with cheap buzzwords like grit and rigor, we’ve developed a full framework rooted in self love and agency. The best way to help students make goals for their success is to give them the agency to decide what makes them happy and the role a career would play in that. Our solution is an Ed-Tech tool that is easily integrated into classrooms, afterschool programs, and homes. By helping students learn to love themselves, they're better equipped to decide how they can impact their communities with their talents. The ASA Prize for Equitable Education would enable us to continue our work of support student agency.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Elevate Prize for Antiracist Technology? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Elevate Prize for Antiracist Technology to advance your solution?

I submitted an Elevate Prize application that can be reviewed with the same email address. Rather than positioning SEL as a chore or task to complete with cheap buzzwords like grit and rigor, we’ve developed a full framework rooted in self love and agency.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GM Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity to advance your solution?

Digital Literacy is at the core of our work. At Weird Enough, we’ve  developed a program that uses superheroes and comic books to improve student literacy and mental health.Our flagship program, Get Media L.I.T. blends diverse comic books that encourage students to be heroes with curricula that fosters greater self esteem, social responsibility, and agency. L.I.T. is an acronym for the programs three lesson categories:  Learn, Inquire, and Transform. “Learn” lessons give students resources for how to tend to their own mental health. Tips for how to deal with things like bullying, social media insecurities, or self doubt. “Inquire” lessons directly focus on shifting student attitudes and beliefs, helping them shed bias and better understand each other. Finally, “Transform” lessons empower students to be heroes in their communities using their unique personal strengths. In “Transform” students create hero projects, where they identify issues and injustices in their communities and strategize how they can combat them. Get Media L.I.T. uses graphic novels to engage students, and leverages social emotional learning as a gateway for positive mental health and community change making. We help students learn to love themselves, so they can use that love to help others and their communities. The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity is in direct alignment with our digital literacy work. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Solution Team

 
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