Sam Tolson knows that being a teenager has never been easy. Even “good” kids can be quick to ostracize others who are seen as “different.” Over the past year or so, there’s been a national push to raise awareness of the pervasive problems associated with bullying, particularly of gay and lesbian teens. Tolson and her partner Christina Mathe are at the forefront of this movement, with their new non-profit Face Yourself. The two travel the area, to schools and public spaces, talking in a down-to-earth way with teens, helping them look at bullying in a new way.
Tolson, a Springfield High graduate who’s just earned an associate’s degree in graphic design from Owens Community College, never felt like an outcast herself. “I was always friends with everybody,” she says. “I never found a reason not to be. I’m kind of an oddball — people would ask ‘why do you dress like a guy?’ But I didn’t go through what other people did.” But a strong sense of empathy led her to sympathize with other teens in crisis, and when she met Mathe through the local music scene, the idea for Face Yourself was born. “She’s got her own story,” Tolson says. “She went through bullying and ended up dropping out of school. I was one of the people who helped her get through.” The genius of the Face Yourself concept came when Tolson painted her face one Halloween. “I got stared at all day,” she said. And something clicked — she realized she was feeling what bullied kids can feel every day. And when Face Yourself began, she and Mathe adopted the face paint as a symbol and a badge of honor.
Tolson finds the work endlessly rewarding. “Every kid is different,” she says. “Everyone has their own story. And I just try to be a kid right back. I’m only 19, so I’m not as intimidating as an adult might be.” She urges bullied teens to see their own worth and to stay in school. “I tell them ‘Don’t ruin your future because one person doesn’t like
Face Yourself is seeking funding to take their mission around the country, and to help schools start their own anti-bullying groups. “I’ve had at least 500 different kids email and ask me to come to their school,” Tolson says. Face Yourself hopes to get their message out through the popular Warped tour.
Check out Face Yourself on Facebook
or see a promo video