Many of us know Dear White People star Logan Browning as an actress. When she’s not starring front and center on the big and small screen though, she’s doing important work for young people as an advocate for bully prevention.
The 31-year-old is the moderator for the 3rd Annual Culture Shock Event by STOMP Out Bullying. The event will bring together a diverse group of young celebrities and influencers to speak to young people ages 11 through 24, starting a conversation about “the need to change the culture from one of cruelty to one of kindness and inclusivity.” The event will be livestreamed in a number of schools throughout the country on Wednesday, April 21. Browning is hopeful that not only will young students tune in, but so will adults who, as she says, “know someone who is 11 to 24 and have been 11 to 24.” She has taken part in the event over the last few years and says not only is it an eye-opening conversation always, but it’s also a good time.
“It’s great energy,” she tells ESSENCE over the phone. “So number one, it’s a good time. And then after that, you just get an opportunity to see some people you admire have candid conversations about their own experiences with bullying.”
The messaging is aimed at this particular group, 11 to 24, the beginning of one’s formative years and all the way through peak young adulthood, because this vast group is thrust into environments with people of all backgrounds and could use the support to acclimate in a positive way.
“I think seeing other people talk about their experiences helps young people to navigate the people around them,” she says. “It gives these young kids an opportunity to kind of check their own selves and see if have they done something to someone that is similar to a story someone is sharing or have they seen someone do that? Then [learn] the ways they can fix it in the future.”
Browning’s own experiences with bullying are what motivated her to take part in the STOMP Out Bullying event.
“I don’t know if people are surprised or not surprised to hear people who are in the public eye say that they’ve been bullied, but I was,” she says.
During middle school, the star said while she had great moments and friendships, “it was also equally miserable. I had people who really went out of their way to make me feel small in order to make themselves feel bigger for things that didn’t even make sense to me.”
One situation that stands out to her to this day is when a girl more physically developed than Browning during that time embarrassed her in front of her classmates.
“She goes, ‘I like your top.’ And I got so excited. I was like, ‘Oh my God, thank you so much!'” she recounted. “And then she goes, ‘but I can see your nipples. You need to start wearing a bra.’ I was mortified.”
Thankfully, Browning had a friend who couldn’t necessarily stand up for her in the moment but helped her brush the situation off after the fact by reaffirming her.
“He was really a friend. Only because he was a friend did I not wallow in that moment for the rest of the day,” she says.
Encounters and support like that are a reason Browning also stands up for people who experience bullying as adults on Hollywood sets. Working her way up to star on shows like Dear White People and in films like The Perfection has given her a power she says she uses for good.
“I am a protector. So I have seen people being bullied and I go out of my way, especially because I’ve been fortunate enough to be the captain of the ship on some shows I work on where I’m higher up on the call sheet. I have that responsibility to protect people. I always will. Even if I was 174 on the call sheet,” she says.
She’s also been informed by playing a few complicated tyrants. One of Browning’s biggest roles was playing Jelena on VH1’s popular series, Hit The Floor. It was an opportunity she initially didn’t want.
“I remember during that pilot season specifically saying that I did not want to play that character,” she says. “I didn’t want to perpetuate a stereotype, specifically of light-skinned women being terrors.”
On a show called Summerland that she was previously on from 2004-2005, she also played a bully. So with that in mind, and her feelings about Jelena initially, Browning was hesitant to take the role. She was concerned about being typecast, but saw potential in the opportunity.
When her character was supposed to do something particularly mean and nasty to former co-star Taylour Paige’s Ahsha, she got fed up and called the executive producer James LaRosa to gain understanding about where her character was going. His take on the character changed her perspective.
“He sat on the phone with me for over an hour and he broke down how Jelena watched her mother be bullied by her father. She watched her father abuse her mother. She watched her dad be a monster and it’s not that she became that monster, it was that she felt an entitlement to protect other people from being that weak,” she recalls. “So it was this cyclical trauma that was embedded in Jelena that made her think, ‘Ahsha is weak. This is what happens to weak women, they get bullied. I have to bully her to strengthen her.'”
It was something that her character progressed through (in Season 4, when she finally found some lasting love in her life). It was also something that changed Browning’s outlook and fueled her anti-bullying work.
“The truth is, all of us can be that. A bully is not a thing that only certain people can be and the rest of us can’t,” she says. “You can be a bully, I can be a bully. We probably have at some point bullied someone consciously and unconsciously.”
That’s why Browning is so passionate about the subject and is looking forward to sharing her story and hearing the stories of the panelists, including Pose star MJ Rodriguez. By giving their accounts, she hopes they empower the young audience sure to tune in to call out bully behavior for the better of all, including the perpetrator.
“Bullies are not hatched out of nowhere. They’re created. And if someone sees a bully, especially while they’re young and they point it out and they tell someone, then that person will hopefully get some help they need,” she says. “They can get some therapy. They can get some support. They can get someone looking into their home life. Maybe they’re being bullied at home. They don’t come out of nowhere. I really think by people speaking up, it’s not just pointing a finger and saying ‘Shame on you.’ It’s ‘You’re doing a bad thing. Where are you learning this?’ You can help someone else.”
Learn more about the 3rd annual National Culture Week and the STOMP Out bullying event at stompoutbullying.org.