BlerDCon 2018: The Convention for the Advancement of Blerd People

Photo courtesy of IG: cymonenya
What does it mean to be a “Blerd?”

In 2017, Blerd was the “word of the year” for me. I have come across this word before in my younger days, but it did not become a part of my lexicon until last year. Blerd to me is an identity used to describe those who are a part of the African Diaspora who share in the creation, consumption, and sharing of resources related to notions of nerdiness. BlerDCon 2017 bombarded my Facebook account around late June. Picture after picture was uploaded to Facebook of the amazing cosplay that was showcased at the convention. Of course, I began to notice that the cosplayers and convention goers in the background were all of the same hue; all of them were black people. I was bewildered and elated all at once to see pictures laden with melanin. A week later, SecondBestProductions released this CMV (cosplay music video) of BlerDCon 2017. After watching the video and seeing the amazing photos, I immediately put BlerDCon on my list of conventions to attend in 2018.

It took until MagFest of this year for me to meet the founder of BlerDCon, Hilton George. My friend Shavontae, who told me he knew Hilton from previous conventions, introduced me to him. Hilton, who is a very charismatic and enthusiastic person, embraced me with a hardy handshake and began to discuss the ins and outs of BlerDCon. I informed him that I am a Ph.D. student studying aspects of videogame culture and that I would love to give a talk or two at BlerDCon 2018. He immediately said, “Do it!” After our 15 or so minute conversation and an exchange of business cards, I left the conversation pondering what topics I wanted to cover for the con.

In February, Hilton and I had a skype conversation which provided me the opportunity to ask him more critical questions such as: Why now? Who is BlerDCon for? And of course, the pivotal question, “What is a Blerd?”. Once our conversation reached its apex, I asked when people would know if there panel(s) were accepted or not. He could not give me a definitive date. I told him I would really like to go, but as a Ph.D. student I need confirmation that my panels are accepted to validate the reasoning of attending this convention to my academic advisors. Without hesitation Hilton said, “Done!” “Seriously?”, I replied. “Yup, your panel is accepted as per me, the founder of BlerDCon.” That moment marked the first time I would be invited to give a talk at a convention. I still had to formally apply, but at least I knew I would officially be on the schedule for my two talks, “Ethics and Videogames” and “Gamifying Blackness.”

Jump forward to July 26th and BlerDCon officially begins the next day on July 27th at noon. Myself, my girlfriend, and my friend are in the room killing time until Shavontae shows up later on that night. His room would not be ready until Friday, so he decided to crash with us until then. After his arrival around 10pm, the BlerDCon experience officially commenced. We stayed up until 4am or so laughing, eating, and playing Giant Uno! No need to explain, just go and buy Giant Uno. Throwing down a “Draw 4” has never felt more satisfying!

BlerDCon has arrived!

We woke up tired, but our excitement overshadowed any fatigue from lack of sleep. After getting dressed we headed towards the elevator. BlerDCon was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia in which some of the elevators have glass windows to look out. We were able to see the plethora of convention goers bustling around in the lobby area. After leaving the elevator, my crew and I walked through the lobby quickly because we were very hungry, and I had to be back to start my Ethics and Videogame panel at 1pm. We arrived back at the hotel around 12:20pm after procuring sustenance. I took the next elevator up to the 14th floor, entered my hotel room, and started prepping for my talk. Once it hit 12:40pm, I headed downstairs to Panel Room 3 where I began to set-up.

The talk went quite well! Amazing turn out of people who had asked some thought-provoking questions. Every so often, an audience member would raise their hand to ask a clarifying question about one of my talking points. Hilariously, their questions alluded to main points that would be addressed later during my talk, so it was nice to tease one of them when I said, “Nice question. You’re jumping ahead in my presentation. But it’s all good.”

Unfortunately, I had to do academic stuff for a while so I stayed in my hotel room mostly, until around 4pm or so. I went downstairs to clear my head and to see more awesome cosplay and to check more of what BlerDCon had to offer.

Photo courtesy of author Javon Goard

The very bottom floor had an arcade filled with classic games from Dig Dug to Mortal Kombat 1 to 3. Beyond the arcade, one room was sanctioned to be the “Anime Streaming Room” which streamed several anime related movies and shows such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Afro Samurai – The Series, and the new anime, Megalobox. Next to that room was a 24-hour console gaming lounge where tournaments for Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, Tekken 7, and Dragon Ball Fighter Z were being held. Next to that room was a 24-hour “Tabletop Gaming Lounge” sponsored by Roll20. The bottom floor is where all the panels were being held with other specialty booths sprinkled around.

One floor above is where main registration was, and further down the hall was the “Marketplace/Artist’s Alley” aka the merchandise area. I decided not to peek into the Alley when I first came across it for fear that I would not have any money left for days 2 and 3 of the convention. I cleared my head and proceeded upstairs to continue my work.

Later on that night, another friend of mine showed up to stay over in my hotel room for BlerDCon. That night we ate chicken wings, took pictures of cosplayers, and stayed up for several rounds of Giant Uno! We did not go to sleep until around 5:40am. The Weather Service slated the sunrise to start around 6am.

After getting roughly 6 or so hours of sleep, it was time for Day 2 of BlerDCon. Sadly for me, my girlfriend was leaving the convention to see Beyoncé and Jay-Z later on that day and prepare to see family the next. Though my crew was down one person, Day 2 had the biggest turn out of people of the convention. The lobby and the bottom floors were swarmed with convention goers. After a quick bite to eat at a restaurant across the street from the hotel, we came back ready to have some fun. My friends and I headed towards the Alley to see what was happening there. Once inside, we were bombarded with boxes, upon boxes, upon boxes filled with comic books. Further passed the books is when the rest of the space opened up to several booths filled with art work, posters, body pillows, jewelry, and authors.

Pictured Above: T.J. Sterling

In particular, it was nice to see so many works of art created by a variety of artists and authors. Some of the authors were writing books in which the main heroes were African American and/or a range of racially and gender diverse characters. M. Haynes author of the Elementals Series showcased his two books The Legend of the Orange Scepter and Return of A.G.Both are fantasy books that feature a slew of characters with marginalized identities. A few booths down I came across T.J. Sterling who is the President and Illustrationaire of RAE Comics. He was showcasing his comic entitled, Okemus. Just looking at the front cover, Okemus appeared to have been inspired by ninjas and Power Rangers. Lastly, Bryan “Kaiser” Tillman was showing off some of his artwork and card game The illustrations in the comic were amazing! Both definitely have talent and are worth checking out.

Artwork by M. Haynes
At the end of the room was a booth with DJ equipment on the tables. I walked up to the booth and was greeted by recording artist, Substantial. Substantial, a part of the music group Edo Bushido, informed me that he was set to perform along with his other crew members (Asheru & DJ AAROCK) that Saturday night at 8:30pm. I informed him that I would be writing an article about BlerDCon and I asked if I could have a very casual conversation with him after his performance. He agreed. I was ecstatic because I never interviewed someone in the music industry before, so I was thrilled by this opportunity. My friends and I walked for another 15 minutes or so before we headed back up to the hotel room. It is now 4pm and I continued my work, but this time it was on finishing my “Gamifying Blackness” panel. In between 4pm to 9pm, I went to a Maid Café, typed, slept, and then went out to grab some dinner.

Around 10:40pm I headed downstairs to the bottom floor to interview Substantial. We proceeded upstairs to find a quieter area because most of the people were on the bottom floor. We sat on a nearby couch and I proceeded to ask my first question. What drove [Substantial] to perform here? Here referring to the convention. He stated, “I love the idea of performing at cons.” He mentioned he enjoyed seeing “people of color express themselves” and he knew he wanted to be a part of that. “Sometimes people in the past could not express their nerd identity. I think people who bring their kids and stuff like that is an excuse to bring themselves as well. I don’t know if that’s fully it. But I know for a few people, me, it’s… [a] really good experience”, he said.

Photo courtesy of author Javon Goard
Substantial grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland and has been a part of the music scene since he was 14 to 15 years old. I asked him why it was important for him to perform here. Substantial replied, “I found it very important to perform for my people who typically don’t get to see me perform. I have fans in this area, but they just don’t get to see me as much…. I think something people ridicule is the gift of empowering others. Everytime, I step on that stage I am reliving my childhood hood dreams. It’s a blessing.” “All without a hit”, he stated while laughing.

I asked Substantial the guiding question that had been my focus while at BlerDCon. What is a “Blerd?” Substantial said, “Quite simply, it is a black nerd.” After a moment of silence, he further explained, “One thing I think as well, that blerd reinforce that black people are not a monolith. I think it’s just another shade of blackness and greatness.” He also mentioned blerd refers to “intelligence” as well. After that I asked if there was anything else he wanted to say. He gave me a friendly, “Nah man. I’m good.” After some final exchanges of dialogue, I proceeded to head back to my room.

It was around 11:30pm when I headed upstairs to my room. I told some friends of mine I was going to the dance party around 11:45pm. I met up with my friends at my room and proceeded to go to the party. We danced until around 12:30am or so and went back to the room. We played Giant Uno for about half an hour and I went back to working on my panel. By 3:30am I was finally done and headed to bed.

After a rough morning, I got dressed to give my 11am talk on the last day of BlerDCon. Giving that talk was a little nerve racking because I spent months contemplating what I wanted to talk about. What does it mean to ‘gamify’ blackness? Seeing at least 25 people at my panel really warmed my heart. The conversation went well and the Q&A went even better. I took a lot of valuable information from it. After my panel, I spent another hour walking around, taking pictures, and saying goodbye to my friends.

So, what made BlerDCon so special?

The fact that it was a new convention for me to present at was exhilarating. I was able to share this new experience with my friends, in which two were having their first ever convention experience! Most importantly, I had a strong sense of belonging. This was a deeper connection than any other convention I have attended because BlerDCon felt like a celebration! BlerDCon was an extravagant carnival where blackness of all shades was welcomed and cherished. Cosplayers of color were able to cosplay, hopefully with no fear of being stared down and ridiculed because they are cosplaying a character that is not of their complexion. Grown adults to children barely able to walk were able to immerse themselves in an environment that felt liberating. The current state of blackness in America is still under constant threat, so to escape that just for a few days was gratifying to me.

Photo courtesy of author Javon Goard
If you missed this year’s con, let BlerDCon be on your “‘go-to” list for 2019. If you attended last year’s or this year’s convention, it is your job to share your truth about your experience, hopefully your stories are full of joy and pride like mine. Let BlerDCon be the 3-day vacation you have been working towards all year. Let this convention be your annual safe place. Allow 3 days out of your year to be filled with glee by attending this con. BlerDCon is where being black and nerdy are one in the same. Your identities do not have to compromise the validation of your ‘black card.’

So again, what is a “Blerd?”

At face value it means black and nerd. I believe Substantial said it best with, “…blerd reinforce that black people are not a monolith. I think it’s just another shade of blackness and greatness.” Unfortunately, it is an identity that far too many are still being scolded for, therefore hindering to their personal development. Be not ashamed of it, embrace it. BlerDCon is a shining example of what Black Nerds can do!

Make sure to follow Javon on twitter @JavonOnThePrgm to keep up with his recent activities.You can also read more of his work by visiting his blog.
BlerDCon 2018: The Convention for the Advancement of Blerd People BlerDCon 2018: The Convention for the Advancement of Blerd People Reviewed by Blerds Online on Friday, August 03, 2018 Rating: 5

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