This past weekend I realized I have a tribe. On the bottom floor of a Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, Virginia, surrounded by hundreds of cosplayers, beats alternating between 90s throwbacks and anime intros, box braids, dreadlocks, BBQ, and multiple arcade iterations of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, I found my people. This was my second Blerdcon. It’s now an annual pilgrimage my girlfriend make to D.C. each summer.
If you haven’t heard of Blerdcon or you’ve never heard the term ‘blerd’ (black + nerd) don’t worry, both are fairly new on the seen. The convention bills itself as:
“Blerdcon is an event that highlights and celebrates Blerd culture and creates a marketplace of ideas where sharing that culture can take place with proper context, attribution and positivity in an inclusive environment.
Blerdcon celebrates our connection with LGBTQ, the disabled, POCs and the international community! All are welcome to partake in the experience as we are an open community who love all the same nerddom.”
(Panels, Celebrity Guests, Presentations, Workshops, Gaming Tournaments, Cosplay Contests, Cosplay Guests, Music and Dance, Anime Screenings, Maid Cafe)
Year three for the convention saw another pleasant surpassing of expectations as attendance broke 5,000– still waiting on the final numbers to come back. I caught wind of the con two years ago on Instagram, followed them, and attended the next summer.
This year, we flew in on a red eye, landed in D.C. around 9am, and got to the Hyatt not long after. Like much of the weekend, I fueled myself through pure excitement and soaking in everyone else’s energy. The lobby wraps around an opening to look down on the two floor below. At the bottom floor, surrounded by an arcade was a DJ stage, beats already bumping.
Cosplay was in effect event before the opening ceremonies jumped off at noon. We got our room shortly after, took a quick nap, then suited up. My girlfriend and I started things off with a Ranma 1/2 pair. I was Ryoga and she was Shampoo. TSA damn near confiscated her props in the Portland airport but luckily they made it through. We looked really dope together and got some great pictures, too.
The Hyatt was noticeably more packed than the previous year which meant a whole lot more melanin. It’s tough to put to words how nourishing the space felt. The joy is tangible, you can feel it in your heart. It’s black men free to express their eccentricities and oddities, black women claiming space in every facet of pop-culture, or an auditorium of hundreds singing along to ‘Cruel Angel’s Thesis’ and then ‘I2I’ from ‘A Goofy Movie,’ right after, I just kept coming back to this feeling of, “Damn, this is EXACTLY where I need to be!”
Saturday morning, we went to see Beau Billingslea’s panel interview. I felt like I was listening to Jet Black himself. Beau seemed really genuine. He took his time answering each question, weaving in tails of coming up as an actor and a voice-actor specifically. He really got me when he talked about his old vocal coach. I’m paraphrasing but the advice was something along the lines, “Soft voices are a dime dozen but a big voice is something special.”
Afterward, I shook his hand and did my best attempt at singing his praises. Whenever I meet someone I admire, I carefully craft a concise statement that demonstrates the love and appreciation I feel, but then I open my mouth and it comes out like, “I like what you do… it’s good… and I like it…” It’s just a bunch of half formed sentences and pleasant handshake. Beau was really appreciative, though.
This year, Blerdcon invited several food trucks to post up in the big lot on the side of the Hyatt, so we had BBQ, slices, sliders, Jamaican BBQ, pho, and ice cream at our disposal. The heat was almost as oppressive as white supremacy. To stand in the shade outside was to sweat, and the food truck lot had about four small canopies. Lots of folks posed against the giant mural on the side of the building.
Saturday night, we saw Sammus perform. I can’t think of a better context for her to perform. A black nerd and intellectual wielding an arm cannon, she fit right in. Her set was full of emotions from the joy of checking out into a world of fantasy, or the weaving of pop-culture and race theory, to her desire to been seen and respected as a black woman in a society that constantly disrespects her. Joined by her band the Galactic Federation, they were just so nourishing. We met her afterward and of course she was incredibly friendly and thankful to be in the space.
Sunday morning, my girlfriend and I hosted our first panel together entitled, “State of Black Marvel,” where we discussed our favorite melanin in Marvel comics and films, and suggested some lesser known stories for folks to check out– Riri Williams (Iron-Heart), Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, World of Wakanda. Besides a bit of technical difficulty at the beginning getting the slideshow up and running, things went great. We had about 20-30 adults and kids attempt.
We spent the rest of the final day floating around like ghosts, fatigued but unwilling to pass on to the hotel room and sleep. I picked my cousin up some pins and magnets and a recent volume of One Piece. At closing ceremonies, they announced 2020’s theme: Chocolate City. Can it be next year already?
Those are the highlights. I forgot to mention that I cosplayed as Android 17 from Dragon Ball on Saturday. It was hella fun but I didn’t run into a single Android 18. Rats! I am sure of one thing after this weekend. Blerdcon is my favorite convention. It’s rapidly evolved into a space for and by black nerds while also incorporating other facets of black culture like the cookout, the barbershop, and Afro-beats. It’s really become a special space for myself and thousands of others and comforting reprieve from the ever darkening political culture. I am so thankful to all the coordinators, staff, and volunteers at Blerdcon.
I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Until next time.