Shattering Conventions: First Annual Wakandacon Celebrates Afrofuturism

September 24, 2018

Marvel’s The Black Panther did more than smash box office records this year.

It inspired Wakandacon, a three-day celebration of Afrofuturism at the Hilton Chicago that combined community building with Blerd (short for Black nerd) culture.

With a closing ceremony that even included a marriage proposal, the overwhelming vibe that you got from the inaugural attendees of Wakandacon is that they want more Wakandacon.

“Why Wakandacon?” Lamar Wilson, co-founder of the financial tech startup Hijiro, asked rhetorically after hosting the “Wacoinda” panel on cryptocurrencies.

“Because there was a gap in the nerdism for Black folk, and Wakandacon is filling that void,” he said. “The fact that we can have Afrofuturism and a togetherness-type feeling—hey man, I’m all for it.”

Chicago literary agent Nora Brooks Blakely was curious about Wakandacon when she first heard about it, and considers attending it to be “one of the best decisions in [her] life.”

“There’s just nothing like seeing a whole group of happy, confident, intelligent and invested Black people,” Brooks Blakely said. “Wakandacon is awesome!”

Along with the cosplay parade and appearances by actors from The Black Panther and Get Out, Wakandacon’s schedule showed the positive eclecticism embodied by Afrofuturism with panels on environmental justice, STEM education and improv comedy.

“This is so grassroots here in Chicago, and so authentic,” CNN host and former President Obama advisor Van Jones said. Jones came to Wakandacon not to host any panels, but as a fan.

“I came to Wakandacon because it’s called Wakandacon,” Jones explained. “That’s enough right there by itself.

“I feel like Afrofuturism and the whole kind of positive upsurge where African-Americans are reclaiming technology, spirituality, history, politics is one of the most powerful things going on,” Jones continued. “The Black Panther film was able to capture that and put it on a world stage, but there’s a bigger movement going on.”

Jones brought his sons to see Wakandacon.

“I asked my teenager if he would come back next year, and he said ‘absolutely.’” Jones said. “You know, teenagers are hard to please.”

Wakandacon: A Con for ‘All Colors of the Rainbow’

Sheri Flanders is a comedian, actor, journalist and instructor in The Second City’s musical improv program. She loves comic books and has been seeing superhero movies with her dad since she was a little girl.

“This is actually my very first con, amazingly,” she said, beaming with joy after Wakandacon’s closing ceremony and that marriage proposal. “I will definitely be going to more cons again, but I have a feeling that this one will be the best one of them all.”

Like everyone else, Flanders wants more Wakandacon.

“There were nerds of all colors of the rainbow here, so everyone should definitely come and support Wakandacon again next year,” she said.

Fortunately for everyone Meetings Today talked to that weekend, the Wakandacon website has already announced that details for Wakandacon 2019 are coming soon.

“I’m very appreciative of the people who took the risk to do this,” Van Jones said, “and the people who put this together are leaders in our culture.”

Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit ineven when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.

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Bob Calhoun