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WakandaCon Brings Community, Education and Fandom to Chicago July 26-28

Written by on July 22, 2019


Wakandacon is an Afro-futuristic fan convention that celebrates Black culture and is back in Chicago for its second year on July 26-28 at Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.

The convention includes panel discussions among thought leaders, a small Black-owned business vendor mall, a cosplay parade, gaming competitions, children’s gallery and more! Jill Hopkins spoke with the sibling founders of Wakandacon, Ali and Dave Barthwell about the success of last year and what can fans look forward to this time around.

Jill Hopkins: I am so excited that you’ve decided to bring Wakandacon back for another year, it was so much fun last year. What does Wakandacon 2 bring to the table that maybe you didn’t have the forethought or the resources to implement last year?

Dave Barthwell: This is our sophomore effort … so we have both the understanding of what the event was and also where we could take it. This year, what we wanted to do was to create much more of a community focus, and allow that to develop because our attendees, what they reported to most from last year was that they had never experienced the sense of community like that before. They had never been to a convention like that … The event itself, we had the panels, and there was the shopping, and there was the gaming but there were also lots of hugs and lots of friends made, and even a wedding proposal! It was about bringing people together. And so we really want to focus more on community this year.


JH: And community is so important to pop culture communities, to the gaming community, to the movie fandom. But a lot of times as Black people, we go to conventions or we try to be fans in the way that other people get to be and we’re the “other” in the room. We don’t get to see, hey, there’s Storm, guess I can’t be Storm this year. But this opens up such a wide piece of family that I don’t think that people had. Did you hear from that viewpoint that, “Hey, other people look like me?”

Ali Barthwell: Yeah, you walk into a space and everybody in the room was black, people in costume and all their Afro-futuristic elegance. The majority of our presenters were women of color, Black women. So people … knew that their experiences will be understood, that their story is going to be heard and going to be valued … There were people that created their own superheroes – we had a woman who dressed as liquid Vibranium. She had this wonderful outfit! And then it was just fun to see all the different Killmongers, like, everyone picked a different Killmonger outfit from the movie. We had the beginning [of the movie] “art heist” Killmonger; we had Warrior Falls Killmonger. We had Golden Jaguar…


JH: The first convention focused quite a bit on the movie itself. But this year, you’re turning its focus to society builders and incorporating some programs that help folks build real skills at the convention. Can you tell me about some of those programs?

AB: We have a lot of things that are focused on cultivating writing skills and storytelling skills, as well as highlighting some storytellers and allowing people to tell their story and share. We have some community partners that are in Steam fields that are sharing about their purpose and their work. We also have a really fun codeathon that I think Dave can talk a little bit about more about…

DB: Yeah, I’m particularly proud of our coding room that we’re running this year. It’s going to be running basically all weekend. And it’s totally free! It’s a space with maybe 20 or 30 workstations and people can come in and take some very simple coding tutorials and learn how to code. All we have tech talks that will be taking place throughout the weekend. And it’s being operated through a very generous support by Blacks at Microsoft and some support by Google and Facebook as well. And you know, I really hope that people come out and take advantage of a really great resource that we’re going to be having this year.

JH: Something that stuck out to me this year is that one of the workshops that you have planned is the Jabari warrior workshop. Can you talk about some of the other workshops you have planned and what other local organizations and entrepreneurs have thrown their hat in the ring here?

AB: Yeah, the Jabari workshop! So Mark Willis, who’s an Oak Park native, he actually went to high school with our younger brother. He was a stunt man in the film “Black Panther.” And so he’s doing so this workshop. And last year, he did it just for the kids but we had so many adults that wanted to join in. So this year, he’s going to do an adult workshop also. We also have Jabari Exum who is the drumming choreographer for the film. He will be doing some workshops and some talks about incorporating music and wellness.

Some of the programming that we’ll have is focusing on including different voices from the diaspora and talking about the intersection between the African identity and the Latinx identity. We have people that work in AI that are coming to talk about ethics and understanding how we can use artificial intelligence to raise our consciousness but also the pitfalls that arise with it. We have panels from Black authors that are coming in to talk about the publishing industry, as well as writing about relationships and writing about love that feel authentic to Black voices. We have a lot of different professionals from lots of different fields that are coming in to talk about what’s going on in their industry.

There’s going to be a cosplay contest and a cosplay parade that you cannot miss. As always will have newbies who have never done cosplay before and there will be veteran cosplayers. And we’ll also have a unique category, the “Afro-futuristic eleganza,” that is blending African traditions and African dress with technologies and your vision of what the future will look like. So feel free to blend some traditional clothes with cyberpunk or even futuristic elements to create your own cool, interesting fashion.




Follow WakandaCon on Twitter and IG.

Images courtesy of Wakandacon

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