This Clevelander is changing the game for how people of color are portrayed in media

Janae Bryson, an African American, was 11 years old when she and her three siblings met their “forever family” and were subsequently adopted by their Caucasian parents, who had three of their own biological children. She moved from a world of abuse and neglect in East Cleveland to a supportive and open life in Geauga County.

As one of only three black children in her Geauga County school, the experience gave Bryson a unique, yet conflicting outlook on race.

“I was aware of what being black meant in a white society,” she recalls. “I was provided with a unique opportunity to observe. My biological family had such negative feelings towards white people. Then I was adopted into a white family and immersed in a white community. My adoptive family provided such positive black role models for us to interact with, as well as positive white role models for us to understand that not all white people are racist.”
 

Janae Bryson, owner of Auden & Company, recently launched Creatively StockedBut Bryson, like most children, searched for her own role models in the media. “I found solace when I can could relate to the black girl on a show, but it wasn’t that often,” she recalls. “I really started finding positive black female role models in print media, and I would buy magazines with black women on the cover and read the stories of those black women.”

 

Bryson still gravitates toward those magazines with black women on the cover. Today, as owner of Cleveland Heights-based Auden & Company (a creative branding and strategy studio), Bryson still sees the lack of positive role models in the media for people of color and sometimes has trouble finding the right positive images of people of color for her clients.

"It's important that we provide media that black kids can see a reflection of themselves in,” she says. “We have media at our fingertips now 24/7, which provides a unique opportunity to showcase positive narratives of the black community.”

To combat this issue, Bryson is launching Creatively Stocked, a resource for stock photography portraying people of color doing everyday activities—like a happy black family enjoying dinner, or two friends enjoying a cup of coffee.

"The goal should always be to expand beyond the stereotype and provide representation of what it is to be black,” Bryson explains of her mission. “We have a collective need to see our stories told and our narratives normalized, in order to change the way the media portrays what it is to be black and brown.”

Bryson hopes to create a platform where children will see people who look like themselves when they see ads. “The concept of role models was created for people to have somebody to look up to," explains Bryson. "If [African-Americans] only see white people within our advertisements, then certain career paths seem unattainable.”

Creatively Stocked, a resource for stock photography of people of color doing everyday activities
For instance, Bryson uses the example that many young African-American boys will raise their hands when asked if they want to be a rapper when they grow up. Why? Because they see a preponderance of successful black rappers with whom they can identify.

“We are shaped by our experiences and perceptions of the world,” Bryson says. “Our environment is so crucial in the development of our dreams. To me, representation in media creates hope—sometimes hope is what dreams are built on.”

Bryson hopes that Creatively Stocked will inspire all media to incorporate people of color into their campaigns.

“When you don't see yourself in the media, then you can feel as if your narrative is unimportant or that you have to change who you are just to fit in,” she explains. “Seeing your story matters. It creates a sense of understanding for you to rely on when your real world is slacking.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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