COLORADO SPRINGS — Social media runs rampant these days with those who are called "influencers", people pitching everything from makeup and beauty products to cooking tips, health and wellness and so much more, and for so many, they are making this a very profitable endeavor.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ryan Griffis, an Army Captain, who is another kind of influencer, one with a message that resonates on a much different level. A calling that has come together with just a cell phone, microphone, and a platform.
The story of Ryan Griffis is an open book, an online documentary on YouTube in fact. That's intentional. A 29-year-old who has experienced a lot in his young life, who has taken that life experience, for better or worse, and is now using it for what he calls a "light and vessel" for anyone who is struggling.
Griffis says "A lot of situations that I talk about I've been through personally, I relate to a lot of different individuals that I can help and provide that inspiration and hope, coping mechanisms to get out of those situations."
He grew up in a small town in Kentucky, and moved out of his house at fifteen, the victim he told me of physical and emotional abuse, getting into trouble, drinking heavily, didn't seek any help, and transitioning to the military but his struggles didn't end there.
And looking back on his earlier life, he wished he had reached out or had the opportunity for someone to reach out to him, so now it's come full circle.
"The voice that I'm using now from my personal experience is what I needed when I was younger and that's what kind of started the videos is I would turn the cameras on and it would be facing myself and I would be talking to myself and then I would post the videos and it resonated with so many individuals".
He goes by Mr. Griffis online, calls himself an inspirational influencer and his exposure has grown to tens of thousands of followers on multiple platforms, including YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and the like. In fact, he received recognition from YouTube after he surpassed 100,000 subscribers.
Timing it's been said is the key to life, and in Dylan's case, this inspirational journey began as the pandemic kicked in, the perfect time to engage with so many who were isolated, searching for a voice in a media landscape devoid of empathy and understanding when it was needed most.
He looks back on it now and is not surprised his message began to resonate, "You couldn't go to a lot of places and then somebody having social media at their hands and just being able to see somebody that really speaks motivation and inspiration and hope kind of gives them what they need, the short term".
And while he was initially hesitant to take the next step in posting his videos of his personal struggles, it turned out to be cathartic for him and for so many others, "I woke up that morning to a direct message, a "DM" on Instagram somebody had seen my video and they said today I was contemplating my life, but I saw your video and it's helped me through."
As I mentioned he joined the military, right now he is an Army Captain, serving on Fort Carson, and he often posts on his platform in uniform, and the mountain post has embraced what he is doing and the message that he is conveying, breaking through the stigma so often attached to seeking help when it comes to mental health issues and our men and women in uniform.
And commanders on Fort Carson recognize the benefit of what he is doing and support it, "But doing what I'm doing I've been able to reach the divisions level PAO team, that really uses me to as their vessel to reach other soldiers and show them it's all right not to be all right at times."
This young man who has teamed up with his wife Amber to develop this homegrown operation is also a man of faith, a firm believer in Christ he says, it is part of his message, but he doesn't push that message on people.
But make no mistake about it, his beliefs are his inspiration, "I been through a lot of tough situations that should have knocked me down and should have stayed down, but I've got up every time and I don't plan on quitting."
His long-term goal is to transition out of the military at some point, but continue to inspire via social media and through motivational and inspirational speaking.
He told me he grew up dirt poor so through the work he does on all of his platforms he and his wife make it a point to give back, donating to non-profits and other charitable organizations. In fact, they recently sent two thousand dollars to the Red Cross for earthquake relief in Turkey.