Interview With Emily-Anne Rigal, Founder of We Stop Hate
If We Stop Hate founder Emily-Anne Rigal looks familiar, perhaps that’s because you’ve seen her on the HALO Awards discussing her cause with Lady Gaga, or maybe you’ve related to her many inspiring, hilarious videos onYouTube (where she’s better known as “Schmiddlebopper”). While Lady Gaga has her “Little Monsters,” Emily-Anne has a formidable team of “Boppers” around the world helping her spread the We Stop Hate vision in a variety of ways—from wearing wristbands to making videos to writing love letters to themselves.
We got the chance to chat with this charismatic Barnard freshman and find out more about how she’s changing the world:
So how did it all start with We Stop Hate?
Emily-Anne: I was a really active member of the YouTube community as a hobby in high school; I started making videos my freshman year. In 10th grade, I was inspired to do something good on YouTube as opposed to just making comedy videos. All my friends were also making funny videos, and we had this huge teen audience combined. I felt we could make good change if we were to spread a positive message together.
I had been bullied as a child and ended up switching schools because the experience was so isolating and toxic. That was why anti-bullying made sense to me as to what YouTubers would talk about. I didn’t expect it to become what it is now. When we started, it was a homemade project. Today we have four staff members and it feels so much more official. I’ve grown so much as a leader and organizer because of the amount of support we’ve gotten. We’re under the umbrella of a 501c3 non-profit, Realize Arts and Education.
Emily-Anne: My love for the word “teen esteem” stems from the idea that it’s something your guidance counselor wouldn’t really say. A big focus was the idea that we wanted it to be kind of special – for teens, by teens; we wanted to try to make it cool and hip. Teens could claim the word for themselves since the phrase “self-esteem” is intimidating at times.
A big part of We Stop Hate’s success is its social media reach. What is your advice to others trying to be heard online?
Emily-Anne: Try to find key influencers within whatever community online you’re trying to get in. If you want to start a healthy cooking blog to promote health, find people who have good cooking blogs—their audience will connect with what you’re doing. Finding influencers in your sphere is how audiences will find you rather than trying to spread the word to people who aren’t listening. We connected with YouTubers who had a large audience and were passionate about the idea of being yourself. Having those people share their stories for us was a huge way to generate traffic in the early days.
How has founding We Stop Hate changed your path in life?
Emily-Anne: It has definitely made me more confident. When I started WSH, I was always a go-getter, but at the same time, I needed to build confidence. Now that I’m pursuing a television career, I go at it full-force. You have to think big and dream big. There is a quote I have in my room: “The world makes way for people who know where they’re going.” The law of attraction is something I believe in. I tell people that I want to work in television and I’m not afraid to do that, whereas before that used to intimidate me. I’ve seen entrepreneurs who talk about how they went for it and in that way it shaped my career path.
Emily-Anne: Monique is such an amazing philanthropist; I originally met her through AllyKatz. When I moved to New York, we got lunch together and she started telling me about Gimme Mo. I now am the production coordinator for her show! Every Sunday, we tape a live show and I work with her to create the run-of-show for topics and guests. It’s definitely a big commitment, but it’s really fun and it’s such a high at the end of every week. It’s on public access in New York Channel 34; all her fans can watch live online every Sunday at 6:30.
She’ll definitely be an amazing mentor as you continue to work in television. Who are some of your other mentors?
Emily-Anne: I’m the biggest mentor advocate—for me, mentors have been a huge part of life. You need to find someone who you think is really cool, and it’s great if they’re in your career path. With my mentors, they are all people I aspire to be like one day and it encourages me to stay connected. One of my role models and mentors is Jess Weiner, the global ambassador of Dove Self-Esteem; I met Jess when I was in 10th grade before I started WSH. She inspired me so much. She’s gone out of her way to help me and put my name out there. Two of my other mentors are Jeanne Demers, who runs the non-profit that We Stop Hate is under, and Nancy Lublin, president of Do Something. Her energy and her passion are so invigorating. From afar, I’m obsessed with the marketing guru Seth Godin.
Any tips on finding a mentor?
Emily-Anne: Remember that people who are really admired are usually very busy. You need to be super persistent about finding a mentor—that’s really important.
You mentioned that We Stop Hate is under the umbrella of another non-profit. How does that work?
Emily-Anne: We Stop Hate is not its own organization; it’s a project. When I was telling Jeanne about my idea, she graciously offered for We Stop Hate to be under her umbrella. It was a partnership that started three years ago and has been mutually beneficial and wonderful. People do get a little wrapped up in the idea of having a 501c3, and that’s not the point of social change—having a legal document to tell you that you can be a non-profit. It’s about the hearts of the people who are engaged and the team that comes together.
What’s your best advice for aspiring advocates?
Emily-Anne: You just have to start. Things are never going to be perfect. You can plan, but you can’t fully plan. Go to a volunteering event or reach out to someone. Don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out.
See Emily-Anne and Lady Gaga on the Halo Awards in this awesome video!