Anderson always knew she was interested in helping youth – she majored in human development and family studies with a concentration in adolescent development at UNC Greensboro. But it wasn’t until she confronted demons about her own self-image a few years ago that Anderson knew she wanted to show teens how to recognize and rise above the influence of media.
Shortly after she graduated from college, Anderson said, she began to feel pressure to look more curvaceous to be considered attractive. She said there is a strong influence coming from media like television and magazines that, in some ways, has replaced peer pressure with “media pressure.” “Out of nowhere, I started worrying about my butt,” she said. So she bought the enhancements, and curious about injections to improve her figure, looked up information on the Web. What she found shocked her. She saw information online about a black market for cosmetic injections, and she read horror stories of several women who had died as a result of improper practices. “I said, ‘Why would I do that to myself?’ ” Anderson said. “ Why?’ I even threw the butt pads out. Why are we risking our lives and health for something someone says we need to be beautiful? That kind of sent me over the edge.” That’s when Anderson knew that if she could fall prey to society’s expectations, teenagers could, too. “I can’t believe I even considered it,” she said of the injections. “But it sparked the fire for me to do something about it.”
January 2012, Anderson launched the nonprofit I AM not the MEdia, which has more than 20 programs Anderson and her team devised through research on teenagers and the media. The workshops fall into one of five categories: body image and stereotypes, sex and healthy relationships, teens as consumers, media safety, teens and healthy living, and bullying and teen violence. The capital letters of I AM not the MEdia spell I AM ME, which underscores the organization’s mission: To recognize and take pride in individuality, and to not conform to what magazines, television and social media say is socially acceptable or enviable.
Anderson pitched her program and workshops to the director of Communities in Schools, a national dropout prevention organization that works with several schools in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools system. Since its incorporation, Cassandra Alston joined forces in 2013 with Anderson as a partner with I AM not the MEdia, and serves as the Operations Director for the organization. The organization has served over 6,000 teens to date with workshops all over Charlotte schools, throughout North Carolina, and South Carolina. The organization’s website also sells buttons, bags and other items emblazoned with “I AM not the MEdia.” (From the Charlotte Observer Article: “Nonprofit Works To Improve Teens’ Self- Image”)
EB: What does your organization do? What are its main goals and main projects?
JA: The organization strives to promote self pride with its national campaign for all ages, and educate teens (ages 13-18) and young adults (ages 19-24) through programs and educational events that teach media literacy. Our mission is to empower teens and young adults to become conscious viewers of the media, critical decision makers, and to embrace their individuality and uniqueness through media literacy and media creation. Our vision is to create new generations of confident, conscious and healthy media consumers and media makers. Our main projects include:
- Our Outreach Programs: We have a selection of over 20 packaged programs that we customize to fit teen and/or young adult audiences. Any organization or site can book IANTM for a one time program or for a series of programs that may extend for up to a year. Our organization receives out-of-town request as well as college visit requests. We serve group sizes anywhere from 15 participants to 400 participants. Organizations can submit their program requests online via our website. For any questions regarding program requests, email: Cassandra Alston at email@example.com.
- Our Power Beyond Now Program: The Power Beyond Now Program launched in Fall 2015 and is a media literacy mentoring program for juvenile offenders and high at-risk youth. The program extends for 6 months and helps teens re-brand themselves while becoming a published author in the process. At the completion of the Power Beyond Now Program, teens will have a self-published book to gain their own capital through entrepreneurial efforts, build a positive brand and web presence, and will also gain media literacy and critical thinking skills to alleviate risky behaviors and become socially responsible individuals in our society.
- Our Teen Circuit Program: Our Teen Circuit Project is a three month program that allows teens to apprentice with the organization and create media projects that spread awareness and promotes advocacy. Teens in the Teen Circuit also serve as a teen advisory board representative for the organization during the term which engages them in some of the organization’s decision making processes. Media Literacy along with media creation is another major aspect of the program in which teens have the choice to serve on one of the following teams: 1) Mag Team 2) Radio Crew 3) Graphics Crew 4) Blog Team. Teens receive mentorship within the organization and meet Saturdays from 10am – 12pm.
- #IANTM Clubs: In Fall 2015, I AM not the MEdia began spreading the experience of media literacy awareness and advocacy to teens all over the US. High school students along with a school advisor can initiate an IANTM club on their school campus through our organization. Certain forms and criteria must be met to start a club. #IANTM clubs require weekly meetings where teens learn about media literacy and media creation through their #IANTM Club Guides and provide teens the platform to initiate activities or events in their schools and communities to promote media literacy.
EB: What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?
JA: When you see the branding of I AM not the MEdia, it immediately makes media literacy feels “cool” to the teen audience it serves and to anyone that encounters it. The organization’s campaign and programs not only push the educational component of media literacy, but makes media literacy more of a mindset and movement that anyone can join by wearing a shirt or connecting with the organization through social media. Although the organization targets teens, youth as young as five and seniors have gravitated to the imagery associated with the message that I AM not the MEdia “I AM ME” provides to the masses and asks for shirts, bags and other paraphernalia.
EB: What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?
JA: This year the organization just began launching our #IANTM Clubs and revamped our Power Beyond Now Program. Starting in January 2016, the organization will begin selling curriculum online as well. The organization has PSA’s available on YouTube that can be utilized to promote media literacy.
EB: Why is media literacy important to you?
JA: Media Literacy is very important to our organization because it is pivotal in shaping identity with adolescents. Our organization believes that media literacy is essential to teaching teens “how to think” in a world that has been built on teaching teens “what to think.” We believe that if you can change a mindset, you can change a life!