How the First Wakandacon Escaped the Fan Convention Curse by Devon Maloney
“I’m a planner, and my dream, my whole life, has been to buy a house,” says Dave Barthwell while standing at a podium in front of several hundred mostly black attendees at the end of the first Wakandacon, a three-day convention of cosplay, workshops, tournaments, and panels, all celebrating the Afrofuturistic possibilities inspired by Marvel’s record-breaking movie Black Panther for black people. “I’ve been saving for it my whole life. And I emptied my savings to throw this—”
Suddenly his voice breaks, and he has to stop and step away from the mic, tears spilling over. The other four organizers, who are sitting at a long table next to the podium, have already said their tearful piece of this closing ceremony; Dave’s just joining the club. His younger siblings Ali and Matt get up to hug him. (Later, offstage, Ali teases him, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you make that noise or cry like that.”) Meanwhile, the audience has burst into applause and cheering, which continues for a good 15 seconds, uninterrupted, as though the filling of dead air is an act of solidarity. Finally, he continues.
“This is something we all needed. I know what it costs. I know the wages we pay to the world outside of this space. Out there—” His voice gets thick again, as he pauses to compose himself. “Out there, they try to take so much from you. They try to tell you that you don’t matter, that the dreams and the hopes that you have don’t matter. That you’re weird or broken or wrong. And, after a while, you start to believe it.
“But not here. Not this weekend. We set out to create something inclusive, informative, fun, to connect people and do something new, something free, where people could try new things, and find support for who they are. A lot of people have thanked me this weekend, but I wanted to thank you, in turn, because this has meant so much to me.”
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