Celebrating Diversity and Culture at BlerdCon 2023

BlerdCon has been going strong and also getting bigger every year. And for 2023, it was the biggest show ever.

The annual three-day convention, hosted this year at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, Virginia, was near capacity, prompting it to hold registration at the Courtyard Marriott, adjacent to the Hyatt. Next year, BlerdCon 2024 will be expanding its programs to that facility as well.

Thousands of participants from across the nation descended upon the convention. They were adorned in various science fiction and fantasy cosplay costumes, ready to avidly play video and board games, participate in panels, and crowd celebrity tables for autographs and photos. They also consumed delicious food and partied into the wee hours of the night.

“I love this BlerdCon community. It’s a safe and great place for anybody of any color to come and celebrate whatever you’re into,” said Stephen Jones, visual artist and owner of Art-O-Torium.

Artist Stephen Jones
Artist Stephen Jones

From the ages of 10 to 16, Jones walked five miles every Saturday to the local comic bookstore, excited to see the new comic book covers. Wanting to create his own covers, he started with a No. 2 pencil and eventually launched his own business when he mastered doing airbrush.

Loading Snacks, a podcast that discusses gaming, comics, and other related entertainment led a panel discussion where participants shared their experiences and challenges as black geeks growing up.

BlerdCon 2023 Cosplayers
BlerdCon 2023 Cosplayers

“Being a young black comic book reader, there was a small collective at my high school, and we met up at those locations. And I’m talking about the farthest part of the library where nobody would see us,” said Jones. “We were a shadow cell who would have been ostracized at school if anybody publicly knew that we were into comic books.”

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society had strong representation this year. The society is celebrating 75 years of existence, and it will be reopening its doors in September of this year after the completion of renovations of its facility.

It produces the annual BaltiCon, attracting over 1,500 participants immersing themselves in the world of science fiction and fantasy, with programming that includes an art show and masquerade, a film festival, authors, publishers, scientists, and much more. Each year it is hosted by the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel in Downtown Baltimore.

CK, aka Real Woman of Cosplay
CK, aka Real Woman of Cosplay

They could attract future participants like CK, also known on Instagram as Real Woman of Cosplay. “Growing up, it was cartoons, anime, lots of gaming in my household, and then love of sci-fi – Cleopatra 2525, Hercules, Zena, and Buffy, anything that was out of the ordinary,” CK said.

A Brooklynite of Guyanese descent, CK represents older generations of cosplayers and performers. She was one of the first women of color performing at Renaissance festivals. “I’m happy for younger people. We did not have this in the ’80s. It was like, you want to play with swords, what’s wrong with you?” CK shared.

BlerdCon CEO Hilton George

CEO Hilton George began his journey as a cosplayer in 2014 in various convention spaces throughout the country. He saw a disparity in black participation, and he decided to create his own convention. He began planning it in 2015, and by 2017 the first convention was up and running. During the closing ceremony, he shared that BlerdCon will be opening virtual reality (VR) spaces in the following couple of weeks, to continue the spirit of the convention.

This year marks a very profound and somber moment for Blerd. Co-founder Hassan Parrish passed away in October 2022. BlerdCon’s  Facebook post read, “BlerdCon has lost a co-founder and the black geek world has lost a passionate advocate and bridge builder. For those of us lucky enough to know and work with Hass we have lost a motivator and dear friend.”

At the closing ceremony, his family was on stage to give remarks about how much Parrish loved BlerdCon. “One thing that I want you guys to know is that every time he came home, he had so much joy in his heart for all of you showing up and being here,” one family member said.

George had an emphatic message to the BlerdCon community, “When we have to go to our jobs and put on the real cosplay, the person we’re not, I want you to be your authentic selves a little bit every day for the rest of this year.”

At the conclusion of the closing ceremonies, BlerdCon opened up registrations for next year’s convention at a discount rate. “I want you to remember that your family is here for you,” George said.

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