Interviews

The Women Behind WakandaCon Are Total Bad Asses: Geeky Girls Guide to WakandaCon

 

 

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???!!!???

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!