Blerdcon 2023 opens with a high-energy first day
Uniting Black cosplayers, anime lovers, gamers, Black nerds and more, the 7th annual Blerdcon kicked things off Friday in Crystal City, Va.
The characters Austin Powers, Scorpion from “Mortal Kombat,” and Velma from “Scooby Doo” do not ordinarily inhabit the same worlds — or often get to be depicted as Black. They do at Blerdcon.
The seventh annual Black Nerd (or “Blerd”) convention officially kicked off Friday afternoon in the grand ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, Va., with a panel featuring Rachel True ( of the cult-classic film “The Craft”), a late-night dance party celebrating Cree Summer, spades and Uno tournaments, and hundreds of Black cosplayers.
The morning started off quietly, but by the time the opening ceremonies began at 12:15 pm, hundreds of Blerds and nerds had descended upon the hotel. The costumes spanned pop culture, Black culture, and nerd culture. There were ninja Wu-Tang Clan members, a break-dancing Spider-Man, M’baku from “Black Panther,” Rugrats, Black women with elf ears and Telfar purses, Black men with hooves and antlers, and so much more, regardless of stereotype and character canon.
Pushing past stereotypes was a theme of the day. While discussing stereotypes Black people face during her opening ceremony panel, actress True said, “We were put into those boxes; it doesn’t mean we have to stay there.”
Blerdcon is a celebration of stepping out of the box. For three days (four, if you count Thursday’s pre-events), Black people are afforded a space to step out of standard cultural stereotypes to engage with the culture, fandoms, and genres we’ve been underrepresented in.
The crowd easily embraced one another, whether knowing each other prior to Blerdcon or not. Refrains of “Yass!” and “Can I take a picture?” could be heard while navigating the festivities. Invited guests, including Karen Ashley (best known as the beloved Yellow Ranger on Fox Kids’ “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”) and actor Ade M’Cormack (“The Winter Soldier,” “Blood Diamond,” and Netflix’s “Castlevania” and “Blood of Zeus”), were all smiles as they greeted fans.
Many gathered enjoyed reunions with friends from around the country made online, like Zaoi Kinder and Darin Smith, who met up with friends they’d met together in a group on Discord. It was Kinder’s third time attending the convention and Smith’s second. Tellingly, Blerdcon is the only convention either has ever been to, something the two had in common with many other attendees.
“I have closer conventions to me,” said Kinder, who’d traveled four hours from North Carolina to Virginia to attend. “But I’m just like, ‘You know what, this is a safe space.’ I know I could dress the way I want to, be how I want, and not have anybody touch me or look at me funny.”
As Kinder noted, negativity and unchecked boundaries are an unfortunately common experience for Black cosplayers at mainstream conventions. Some onlookers think nothing of crossing physical boundaries or lobbing criticism or insults when they see a Black person cosplaying as a certain character. At Blerdcon, everyone — whether Black or not — seems to know the drill.
Smith added that after his first year, he became attracted to the convention like a magnet, saying, “It’s wonderful out here.”
Blerdcon first-timer DeVon Hudson of Bowie, Md., said the appeal of Blerdcon is being comfortable among so many other people who looked like him, “Who are all just enjoying themselves and being themselves.”
He added, “The atmosphere, I love it.”
Blerdcon has come a long way in seven years; according to co-founder Hilton George, this year’s convention is “the most perfect” it has been to date. Ahead of the convention, George told theGrio he’d learned a lot since first launching Blerdcon — namely, that the best part of the convention isn’t anything on its nearly 24-hour-a-day schedule.
George used to plan Blerdcon down to the minute but now says, “What I learned, both as a con-runner and a team manager, [is] that everything that we put together in the con — as much as we love them and as much as people engage with them — really serves as a backdrop for the vibe and the atmosphere that people take advantage of to create their own experiences and their own memories that they take away.”
Check out the vibe yourself in theGrio’s Blerdcon 2023 gallery below.
Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands.
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