Demetrius Harmon, formerly known by his social media moniker “MeechOnMars,” wants to change what it means to be an influencer. The term, which commonly refers to a new breed of social media celebrities who are carving out careers for themselves through platforms like Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat “influencing” their followers on various trends and lifestyles, is often equated with vapid, silly entertainment for kids and teenagers. Goofy videos, pranks and stunts, emotional confessionals, makeup tutorials, product reviews, amateur travelogues – the sort of content that’s proven to be incredibly popular with teens and millennials.
Harmon does make funny videos. He broke out with the now-defunct viral video app Vine, which published brief, six-second videos that launched the careers of people like Logan and Jake Paul, who went on to build multimillion-dollar digital empires after transitioning to YouTube and other online platforms. Now Harmon posts his content directly on platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.
Despite being just 21, Harmon is determined to use his internet fame, which includes almost 1.6 million followers on Twitter and 1.3 million on Instagram, not to increase his own fame or wealth like many of his influencer contemporaries, but rather to be a force for good.
In 2016, when he was still primarily going by his MeechOnMars handle, Harmon posted a short film called Be Happy, about mental illness. “I want to create a space and a feeling where people can openly talk about their struggles and thoughts without fearing for being sent to an institution or being put on suicide watch like a dog and not a person,” he told the site Blavity when the short was released. “The more we talk about it the less people will feel like they are alone.”
His frank and honest discussion of his own struggles with mental health connected with his young viewers and even landed him an opportunity to deliver a commencement address touching on the issue at Edsel Ford high school in Dearborn, Michigan. Harmon, who was barely out of high school himself when he delivered the speech, was invited after the school’s principal asked the students who they wanted to have speak at their graduation ceremony.
Harmon has developed his personal brand as a social media influencer with a major emphasis on positivity. In many ways, he’s following the path of many other internet celebrities; he does modelling work, writes poetry, has his own clothing line, and is focused on expanding into more mainstream acting, comedy, and filmmaking. But along the way he’s placed his support behind numerous virtuous causes and worked to spread positive messages.
Harmon’s popular clothing line is called You Matter, the name intended to help boost his young audience’s self esteem. He stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, with most of his special limited-edition Pride Month You Matter hoodies sold out at his online store. He donates money to school programs to help underprivileged youth. He dyed his hair pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2018 and offered another specially-themed You Matter hoodie for the cause, with part of the proceeds going to breast cancer charities. He has his own spin on the fan meet-and-greet, the meet-and-greet-and-hug, in which he organizes informal meetings with his followers and literally gives each and every one of them a hug. With Harmon, it’s not a cute gimmick or stunt; it’s based on his own first-hand knowledge of what young people are going through today, the prevalence of stress, anxiety, and depression that affects millions of youth around the world. He’s telling them that he understands, and that he’s here to help however he can.
Another issue that Harmon is serious about addressing is that of modern masculinity. As several observers have noted, many of the current problems faced by society regarding violence and harassment are rooted at least in part in outdated notions of what it means to be a man. Young men, particularly young black men, are often still brought up believing that showing emotion or talking about their feelings is a sign of weakness. It’s something that Harmon is working hard to change. It’s an issue that reveals itself when he meets with – and hugs – his fans.
“My mom and my dad didn’t raise me to feel like I have to present myself besides who I am. I used to think like that,” he explained The Fader. “I used to think, Men aren’t supposed to do this. Men aren’t supposed to do that. Emotions are what make us human.”
The emotional connection that Harmon has with his millions of followers is something he’s leveraging into a career as an actor and performer. Citing multihyphenate actor, writer, comedian, and musician Donald Glover as one of his heroes, Harmon is also monetizing his fame through platforms like Niche, Twitter’s in-house talent agency for influencers. Niche connects brands with influencers like Harmon, who promote that company’s products to their legions of followers. The key for creators like Harmon is that the connection and promotion is organic, and not forced. “I used to not feel comfortable when I would do the ads and stuff, but now I feel like I can be myself,” he told The Fader.
It’s clear that for Demetrius Harmon’s growing audience, he’s a positive force for inspiration. As he continues to move towards his goal of conquering Hollywood as a multi-talented writer, director, and performer, he’s determined to do so in a positive way and be an influencer for good.
Justin Anderson | Senior Editor
Cover photo by Dante Rionda