As part of our Geeky Girls Guide to WakandaCon series, wouldn't you want to learn about the women behind the con? Cause let's face it. Con after con after con after con, female leadership can be, well, almost non-existent. But that's not the case with WakandaCon.
WakandaCon, taking place August 3rd through the 5th in windy Chicago, is headed by women who are almost as fierce as the Dora Milaje. But even more than that, they are inspiring. Don't think you can reach your dreams? Think you can't win in a game that's stacked against Black women? The road is hard and not without scars, but these three women have proved that you can battle your way to the top.
Wayment, ALL Y'ALL WORK IN THE ARTS??
Yes! Just before I was about to take that Theater Degree and toss it in a fire, I learned that Ali Barthwell (Co-founder, Social Outreach), Lisa Beasley (Producer and Media Relations), and Taylor Witten (Producer and Content Strategist) all graduated from college with arts degrees. Ali attended Wellesley College, Lisa attended LeMoyne-Owen College and Taylor went to Dartmouth College. All three women combined have experience in acting, production, writing, directing, and teaching well after college.
This is inspiring because, as an arts major myself, it's just so validating to see women, black women in particular, out here doing the damn thing
The Path To WakandaCon is Paved With Friendship
Each of them came to WakandaCon in their own way "Wakandacon is founded on principles that I feel are personally important to move our people and culture forward." Taylor says about the convention, "Blackness is a spectrum. Out with the old, and limited question of “are you Black enough?” We aim to shift what it means to be Black, culturally, personally, professionally, and expressively. No matter where you land on the spectrum - your journey and experience shape the culture. We want this to be a movement. We want to create more seats at the table, establish safe spaces for creatives of color, and amplify their voices. By joining the Wakandacon team, I felt like I had found my tribe."
Lisa didn't take much convincing to hop on the project, "My friend Ali Barthwell reached out to me and told me that her brother had an idea named “Wakandacon.” I really didn’t need any further explanation. I knew exactly what it was and exactly why she was telling me he had the idea. Honestly, it didn’t take much. I was on board when she said, “Hey, my brother has an idea.” I love helping my friends work out their ideas."
"My brothers and I were going to see Black Panther a lot and my older brother David came up with the name first: Wakandacon." Ali says, while I wonder if she beat me in the number of times she saw Black Panther. "He tried to pass it off to Matt and me to organize but we convinced David to lead us. As we started to build this idea, we realized that we needed more help so I recruited Taylor and Lisa who are friends of mine with experience in the areas we were missing. We’ve been creating and building this thing since that moment. There has been a lot of educating ourselves and learning from other cons and their successes and mistakes."
So...WYD Outside of WakandaCon?
Thing is, each of these women are out here living life, breaking glass ceilings, hell, breaking glass universes. Doors are opening for them all over the place.
Taylor thought she was slipping me a shameless plug, but I was gonna put her on blast anyway 🙂 She's got a film project in the works, called The One I Love. It's about a Christian couple who face trials and tribulations as they grow in their relationship and faith. Since Taylor is herself a woman of faith, her production of this Indie film comes straight from the heart.
Lisa is, to put it simply, changing the world. She is the co-founder of The Nova Collective which is a company that works to transform corporate culture. I wanted to know if there had possibly been an uptick in a need for this after...how do I put this lightly?...the shitstorm after the election. "The entire Diversity & Inclusion industry has increased due to the friction caused by the last election. Conversations are happening in the workplace whether people want them to or not and we help companies strategize how to have those conversations. The last election has put a magnifying glass on problems that have already existed in the workforce so I think a lot of the workforce is relieved people are finally talking about it."
I asked each of them "What's the best thing about being a black woman? what's the worst thing?"
Ali hits me with a simple but truthful statement, "The most challenging thing about being a Black woman is being a Black woman today and the best thing about being a Black woman is being a Black woman."
"Sometimes I can’t tell if people are not listening to me because what I’m saying is actually trash or because they are not used to listening to black women."Lisa tells me "I’ve often worked in environments where what I say is dismissed because of my identity but I’ve learned that that is also my superpower. Now I work in groups that value my expertise and experiences. The best thing about being a black woman. Oh geez. I love how I can bend and manipulate my hair in many different ways. I love the skin I’m in. I love being a black woman."
And lastly, Taylor is quite literally taking me to church with her answer. "The BEST part about being a Black woman," she says, "is that there is no limit to the type of woman I can be. Black women grace almost every part of the earth. We’re literally everywhere, doing all kinds of great things. It’s truly inspiring. The challenge is that most people don’t see us that way. I often come across people who have such a narrow view of who I should be and how I should act because I am a Black woman. My hope is that Wakandacon exposes us all to a new way of thinking about Black women and provides a better representation of our whole selves."
Lisa Stole My Dream Job, Y'all
Not really, no. She didn't steal it from me. But I was super jelly to learn that Lisa Beasley is a friggin' writer for Cards Against Humanity!!
"Super cool, right?" She says to my green-with-envy self "I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of the comedians and writers in the room. The head writers thought that I would be a good fit for the room. Because of my other projects taking off, I now work with them as a Remote Contributor."
If You Don't Read Any Other Part Of The Article, Read This
All three of these women have been out there making it happen for themselves. So I had to ask them one burning question:
How did you get to where you are today? How can someone like me succeed in this world? How? How? How!
Thing is, not only is Lisa working in the Arts, she is also making changes in Corporate America and has a lot of advice to give. "Big changes start with yourself. In attempting to save myself economically, I’ve been able to open doors for other people. The experiences that I’ve had as a black woman in certain industries led me to explore different career paths that could build spaces for people to do the work that they love to do. Selfishly, I wanted a place to work and found that a lot of my friends were having a hard time finding work because most jobs are just trying to fill a diversity quota and would only allow one of us at a time. So instead of waiting for someone to hire me, I created jobs for myself. If you’re a black woman and you want to make big changes, think about the why and hold that in your mind often. Knowing why you are doing what you are doing will get you through the tough times. Also, take care of yourself. We are so used to taking care of others that taking care of ourselves seems selfish."
Moving right along to Ali, who gives us the best advice on how to succeed as a black woman. "First, go to therapy" Ali scolds like a Saturday Morning Mama that tells you to get ready to clean all day "or find a restorative hobby." she continues.
"There will be difficult and trying experiences. You won’t be able to avoid them completely but remembering that your mental health and security is the most important thing. It’s very easy to think that our struggle fuels our creativity or as Black women, we should shoulder the burden and power through but you can’t create from an unhealthy place. You need moments to restore you that make you healthier.
I would also say that you are most likely two to three times better than your white counterparts. That’s just a fact. And if you’re anything like me, you probably work to be perfect before you even try anything because if you fail, there might not be a second chance. That desire to be exceptional only will help you. Don’t let that desire to be perfect hold you back from trying something new or become harmful. See why you’ll need therapy?
Lastly, rely on your networks. There are more people who are willing to give you advice, guidance, or an introduction than you realize. Asking someone for advice or asking them to tell you their story to success will make them feel important and they’ll probably want to help you. "
And lastly, Taylor leaves us with lasting advice that will get you through the entire week. Heck, maybe even the year. "I was really hoping to share some deeply impactful-life-changing Def Poetry Slam style advice," She says, "however, this is all that came to mind --- Decide. Commit. Succeed. Only you can determine your future and it starts with making a choice."
If these three women can make it, you can too. WakandaCon forever!
I had the pleasure of returning to the Salute to Supernatural convention here in Las Vegas again this year. Last year was my virgin run, and well, I guess I came back for more. Cleary I wouldn’t be going if I wasn’t a Supernatural fan, and yes I am a fangirl when it comes to this show. This was the best way to let my fangirl side out for a free run.
I didn’t go for the full four day package this year. I had to at least attempt to be responsible for some priorities in my life, no matter how tempted I was. I opted for the Saturday event, mainly because that was the day that the lead actors Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki would be appearing. Hopefully next year, and I do plan on going again, I can swing all four days and watch and listen to the other panels of actors and crew.
If you have never been to a convention before, it is pretty much a jammed packed all day event of scheduled panels and activities down to the minute. All you are required to do is strap in for the ride. The panels for Saturday started with our host for the four days, Richard Speight Jr, coming out to open up the day, and sadly for that day, he had to fill in for a sick panelist. Mr. Speight Jr. is better known to the Supernatural fan as the trickster or the angel, Gabriel. The man has only been in four episodes over the now nine seasons of the show, but he is as beloved as the boys.
I should also mention that the convention had its very own house band. I can’t speak for the other conventions, but last year we had the honor of the same band. The band is called the Elastic Waste Band, and their alter ego is the real band, Louden Swain, led by Rob Benedict who is another actor from the show who played the beloved character, Chuck. When they represent The Elastic Waste Band, the band gets into crazy character donning 70s leisure suits and tuxes. They don wigs and accents and completely different names as the play covers and time in with jokes and moments made by the panelists. They know how to get the audience pumped up, make them laugh, or entertain them in general. I believe that they are a great asset and hope they return next year.
The next panelist was Chad Lindberg who is known to the fans as Ash. His panel mostly focused on his passion of the paranormal and ghost hunting. Thursday night of the convention, Mr. Lindberg led a group of fans on a ghost hunting venture out to the local haunted hot spot of Bonnie Springs. He is very into the paranormal and has been on the reality series, Ghost Adventures, a few times. Even Aaron Goodwin from Ghost Adventures was hanging out at the convention during Lindberg’s panel. He talked a lot about his personal paranormal experiences and how his fascination with it usually drove what roles he chose as an actor. He brought a few gadgets known to the ghost hunting world up with him just to see if they would go off. They did so maybe we it just wasn’t him and us fans present. It was a very interesting panel hearing about his experiences and advising some fans how to handle their own.
Richard Speight Jr returned for his panel with partner in crime, Matt Cohen, and brought along Rob Benedict. It was a treat for the Saturday only guests, because Benedict didn’t have a panel scheduled for that day. I should also mention that Rob Benedict had been recovering from a stroke since October. This was the first con he’s fully been back for since the incident. He was fully recovered and energetic as always, which was fantastic to see. I even heard there was a special welcome back video made by the fans for his Friday panel. We supernatural fans are nothing but love. The group mostly answered questions from fans and promoted their newest work. Special mention for Richard Speight Jr and his short film that he wrote and directed called, America 101.
The next guest was Misha Collins, who plays the beloved Castiel. Mr. Collins is always a delight and just a fascinating individual all around. His energy and wit is always top notch even though his can be very easily distracted. I don’t mind that so much, because those distractions are always entertaining. He spoke a lot about his creative projects that he has partnered on with his wife whether they be in the entertainment business or not. She seems just as creative as he is, which should make for a very powerful couple. This man is definitely someone I would invite to my fantasy dinner table for the interesting conversation alone. Misha Collins was as big of a joy as last year, and I was glad that I got see him, since his panel for Saturday was a recent addition.
My friends and I decided to take a lunch run after Misha’s panel, and since you have to make a life decision on who to miss in the full packed day, we had to choose to miss out on the Osric Chau panel. I had a time constraint with my upcoming photo op and my phone was in desperate need of a charge. As unlucky as it was to miss out on his panel. I did have a slight run in with him later in the day. Nothing fancy or extreme fangirlish, but I did give a smile and a nod as I stood beside him waiting on my friends while they were making a Starbucks run. I personally have this weird thing about celebrities private vs. public time. I just don’t want to bug them on their own time. Yes, they were here for the fans at a convention, so that is what they are there for. I just have my own issues with that kind of thing. I am not the person that will chase down someone for an autograph. I remember meeting Jane Espenson, writer and producer currently for Once Upon A Time and then Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after a lecture she gave at my university during my freshman year. I got a weird look from my friend when I told him that I didn’t want to go up and get an autograph from her. He had to talk me into it. I still have it, but I feel weird about having it. Everyone has the right to want those things, and there is nothing wrong with it. I am just not that person. A point that is even further made when it came to my photo op with Jensen and Jared.
I was nervous at first. I actually have never been in the presence of a celebrity before in my life. My run in with Osric happened after this, so I was walking blind as far as my reaction. While I love both the actors, Jensen is my current celebrity crush and has been for some time now. I kept going down the check list of 1. He’s a stranger. 2. He’s a person. and 3. He’s married. I believe I am a sensible person and this should have been enough to keep me calm. Then I kept having horrible flashbacks of my awkward teen years and my love for my Backstreet Boys and Devon Sawa, and the wallpaper their posters created in my room. I have convinced myself that I grew out of that crazy, but what if I was wrong and Mr. Ackles will forever remember me as that Las Vegas Con girl? Thankfully as I was ushered into the room with the other patiently waiting fans and saw them for the first time in close proximity, my first thought was, “They’re not that tall.” Both Jared and Jenson are tall, especially Jared, but for some reason I expected bigger than life giants. That right there was the moment that I could relax and knew I could handle it. When I actually got up to them for my picture, which was very assembly line, I told them both thank you for coming to the convention and doing the show. This was happening as they both ushered me in place for the photo. Jensen smiled and said thanks, but it was Jared that would cause me panic until I actually saw my photo printed later that evening.
Jared decided to engage with more than a simple thank you. He leans down with his 6’ 4” self and says, “No, thank you, baby. You’re why we do this.” If you are a Sam fan, you would probably be melting into puddles of fangirl goo after hearing this. I was startled and not in a necessarily good way. My inner feminist roared up at the moment he said “baby,” and the dialogue in my head went “Who the hell is he calling baby?” Thankfully this was not said out loud, which would have come off very badly. I couldn’t help the reaction. It is way too natural for me. I would like to tell the Sam and Jared fans that I am not now nor was then mad at Mr. Padalecki. He was being engaging and friendly by using an endearment. He just didn’t know me personally. He doesn’t know that I am fiercely independent and practically a feminist, especially one that believes “baby” is an intimate term and should have permission before using it with me always. It took probably five seconds for reality to hit and to laugh at my own reaction and throw it aside as my own personal crazy towards someone being nice. Unfortunately, it only took two seconds after his statement to have the actual picture taken which turns out was before I got over myself. For those who know me, I don’t always have to speak what is on my mind, because my face is usually quick to portray said thoughts and gets me into trouble quite a lot. Being that thrown off by Jared’s proclamation could only guarantee that my face expressed what my mouth did not. After leaving, I was terrified that my birthday present to myself would have me looking especially sarcastic and indignant. Only I would end up doing something like that to myself. I am happy to announce, that picture did indeed turn out well, and I saved myself from immortalized embarrassment.
There were two major panels left in that day. One was with Jim Michaels, Co-Executive Producer of the show. This one was the most fascinating to me. I always love to hear about the development of a show an inner workings. He hasn’t exactly been around for the entire series, but he has put in quite some time, going on five years now. Audience members asked about the current conflict between the brothers on the show and whether it was going to get resolved. This has been a source of discontent for fans this season, because this particular fight between the brothers seems out of character and drawn out, not to mention down right annoying. He answered vaguely saying that there has to be conflict otherwise the show would be boring, but the point was to resolve that conflict, which would happen. It was just a question of when. He also discussed the new spinoff series. The title has been changed to Supernatural: Bloodlines. I am hoping that they drop the “Supernatural” part, but that’s me. The boys actually just flew in from finishing up the backdoor pilot for the spinoff series that will air later in the season. For those who do not know what a back door pilot is, it is where an already existing show takes an episode to introduce and focus on the new characters and storyline for this supposed new show. Usually, there are no definite plans of production of that proposed show, because they want to see and test audience reaction to the episode and gage whether it is worth actually making. Since Supernatural never does the norm, they have been confident enough to begin filming the new series before this backdoor pilot even airs. We will all just have to wait and see.
The final panel of the day was of the boys themselves, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. They were, as always, entertaining, busting out on stage donned with a cowbell and a tambourine to join in with the band to sing the con theme song, The Boys Are Back In Town. They were very grateful and playful with the audience and the fans that asked questions. They were asked questions that ranged from story and character progression on the show to what their wrestling tag team name would be as well as finishing move. They could only come up with the finishing move, which they naturally felt needed to be named the Impala. The boys enacted such a finishing move on a fan after he asked why the brothers were currently acting like bitches on the show. It probably made that guys day. They performed and came up with an impromptu haiku at the request of a fan. They seemed pretty proud that they could manage it too. They did state after being asked about the future of the show they were on board for whatever the series had to offer whether it be one or another ten years as long as the story was still good. That was pretty nice to hear, because I don’t want such a good show to keep hanging just because it can and not because it should. Their panel ended with Jensen and Jared doing their best Vanilla Ice, prompted by an earlier joke made by Jared after Jensen used the phrase “to the extreme” in one of his answers. It was a hell of a way to end a day, I tell you.
That was the end of just one day. Can you imagine what all four would be like? As we were leaving, I decided to ask a girl who dressed up as a “Busty Asian Beauties” cover for the costume contest for a picture, because it was a really original costume that I loved. I even asked her if it was okay to share her picture here and she obliged. Thank you, again, to the girl that made my day with that costume. It was fantastic! For those that don’t understand the reference, the beloved character, Dean, apparently has a specific preference for his porn voyeurism with the “Busty Asian Beauties” magazine. It has been an ongoing joke throughout the whole show. So, hat’s off to you, my dear. That was well done.
Funny story to end this long account. As I was waiting to take the above picture, someone suddenly came up to me and yelled “Boo” in my ear. Now since facial expressions are my first go to, I was getting ready to throw my best “what the hell” look at the person who did it. When I turned to look, I am greeted by the smirking face of Mr. Mark Sheppard, loved and known to the fans as Crowley, King of Hell. He just turned and continued on down the hall like the boss he is. I couldn’t even get mad at that. The con was a blast and I recommend all Supernatural fans to attempt to go to one at least once. Also special shout outs to Liz and Hilary! Thanks for taking the time to meet with me at the con. It was truly my honor to meet you both!