Popping Cherries with Autumn Pinkley
Through her movement, ‘The Cherry Project,’ Pinkley shares the personal stories of students and peers to inspire others.
By Kara Mercer, Northern Illinois University
Though storytelling requires a lot of courage to share uncomfortable or upsetting personal experiences via social media, Autumn Pinkley is giving people an online outlet to share their stories and inspire others.
Her campaign, “The Cherry Project,” is a multimedia-platform project promoting positivity on everything from gender and race, to sexuality and appearance. With the project, students and individuals can come together through stories, photography and video to see whose stories are similar to their own and identify with others.
Pinkley works with three friends, Tiffany Nguyen, Sydney Robey and Ke’Hira Monroe, to promote self-love. She talked to me about her life, how she deals with the campaign, what started the the movement and where she hopes it goes from here.
Kara Mercer: First, what year are you, and what are you currently studying?
Autumn Pinkley: I’m a sophomore, and my major is Broadcasting and Cinematic Arts. I’m also minoring in Multimedia Design.
KM: What made you choose Central Michigan University (CMU)?
AP: I started taking art classes my sophomore year in high school, and toward the end of my junior year, I knew I was going to go to Central Michigan.
When it came time to choose colleges, it was between Central and Grand Valley State University, because they both have reputable broadcasting programs. Like I said, all I was studying in high school was art and digital art, and when the time came, I had my heart set on CMU.
KM: What do you do outside of school?
AP: Outside of school, I’m on News Central 34, which is the campus news station, so I go there when I get out of class. I’m also a PINK Nation campus team member. We hold events for girls and give away free prizes. I work as a desk associate in the dorms as well, and besides that, I’m probably taking pictures somewhere or doing homework.
KM: What are you hoping to do after college?
AP: I plan to go into news. I want to do producing or directing, anything TV-news related.
KM: How would you describe “The Cherry Project”?
AP: It’s a positive movement where people influence each other with their stories. One stranger’s story can help impact someone in a way they didn’t know it could, so that’s our goal, to keep influencing others in a positive way.
KM: What inspired you to create the project?
AP: I did a photoshoot with a good friend of mine, Raquel Rivera, back in the summer of 2016. I was going through the outtakes, and she was wearing a wig, and her outfit had the word “cherry” on it. She used to dress differently when we were in high school, and a lot of people would judge her or make fun of her, because she was the only one wearing that type of clothing back then.
Now, she dresses the same, but she lives in New York and gets involved in New York fashion week. She’s even starting her own clothing line. A lot of people look up to her, the same people who judged her in high school. There was a lot of irony about it, and I felt influenced by that photo, so I decided to do something with it.
I sat for a few days thinking about it, and there was a lot of body shaming going on through social media, and the Black Lives Matter movement was prominent in the summer too. So, by combining race, gender, sexuality and other social issues, I thought I would tie it together in a big campaign movement.
KM: Is the campaign only for CMU students?
AP: No, it’s not. I originally started it from home, but since I’ve been at school, we get a lot of people from campus. As we’ve grown, people from out of state have messaged us stories, so it can go all over the place.
KM: How can someone submit a story to “The Cherry Project”?
AP: Some people contact me by email or on Twitter, but a lot of people follow us on social media and DM their information, and that’s how we get the stories in a fast and easy way.
KM: What impact do you hope to make through the campaign?
AP: I hope to see more people comfortable in their own skin, especially people who don’t reach outside their comfort zone. A lot of people don’t think they have a voice or an opinion; they’re shy. I’ve had shy or quiet people do stories, and I see them now, and they’re out of their comfort zone, and that’s what I want to see.
KM: Tell me a little bit about the “Favorite Things” videos.
AP: I did the videos for the people who don’t necessarily have a story to announce, because not everyone feels comfortable sharing stories, which is fine. The videos state that what you love about yourself can be physical or inside, like how you feel about yourself, so it enables people to uplift themselves.
KM: How are you working on promoting the project?
AP: Every time I post a story, I post it on my Snapchat, and Facebook gives you promotion options as well. We’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. We’re also working on new things for promotion for next semester.
KM: Is it difficult to balance the campaign between school and the other activities you do?
AP: It was at first, because it really took off and then we left for winter break, and when we came back, our schedules were different, so we were learning how to balance it more. We’ve also been trying to plan things for next semester. It hasn’t been as hectic as last semester, because we’re trying to come up with new stuff, and we know how to balance things better.
KM: How far do you hope the campaign goes?
AP: As far as it can go. I have high hopes, and I’m not sure if it will take off, but I hope something amazing will come out of this project.