It isn’t often you have the opportunity to chat with a hero. After engaging in conversation with Jermaine Dickerson, creator and curator of Hero Nation-Ypsilanti, I’ve come to believe that we speak with heroes more often than not.
Hero Nation-Ypsilanti is a free, family-friendly comic-con in Ypsilanti, Michigan, that celebrates superheroes and diversity with the mission that everyone has a hero inside of themselves that deserves to be celebrated. Hero Nation also seeks to amplify the voices of marginalized people including people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and women.
The event will take place in Ypsilanti, Michigan on Saturday, September 9th from 1pm-6pm at the Parkridge Community Center and I had the pleasure of finding out a little more about Hero Nation and its mission from Jermaine himself. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Black Nerd Problems: To curate a comic con event called Hero Nation, you must have a hero of your own, right? Who would you say is your biggest hero?
Hero Nation: My mom. My mother has always been my most avid supporter, cheerleader, and remains the largest pillar in my life. Since childhood she’s instilled an unwavering code of diligence in me that has allowed me to remain persistent when achieving my goals. Now, of course, in practice this hasn’t been the easiest thing — as is the case with anyone. But the fact that she still goes out of her way to leave me random Facebook comments telling me how much she loves me and to never give up, speaks to how dedicated she is to elevating me and my dream. I remember when I was a kid, whenever I would say “I can’t” do something she would always response with “Can’t don’t live here. You can.” I love her infinitely. She’s the first superhero I’ve even known. She’s my Supermom.
BNP: How does Hero Nation increase visibility for the “everyday heroes and positive people?”
HN: Hero Nation is a platform where anyone can celebrate the hero inside. It’s a space where your existence, your achievements, your success, and your culture are celebrated, and your autonomy — in regards to how you choose to express that–is respected. Whether it’s dressing up as Storm, Nubia, Kamala Khan, Kong Kenan, or an original hero; Hero Nation welcomes everyone’s heroic vision, as long as it’s not rooted in the oppression, marginalization, or dehumanization of any group. So hypothetical characters like Confederate Man and Islamophobic Woman can celebrate their bigotry elsewhere. Because that literally won’t fly at Hero Nation.
[quote_right]Hero Nation will feature free arcade games, console gaming, workshops, film screenings, guest performances, artists exhibitions, and more.[/quote_right]I also want to clarify that our goal is to do more than just increase visibility. I’m always reflecting on what representation means and I recently came to the realization that “visibility” is an ableist perception of representation because not everyone is able to see themselves be represented. So I’m making it a goal to find ways to engage intersectionality beyond optics. I want to look more at the experience and how people can leave Hero Nation feeling empowered outside of what was seen. It won’t be an easy task, but everyone deserves that chance.
Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to take part in Netflix’s The First Time I Saw Me campaign where I spoke about the various points in my life where I saw myself being represented in media as a gay black man. And watching the other campaign participants like Ava Duvernay, the cast of Dear White People and many others speak about their own experiences really widened my perception of representation. I also remember reading stories about how fictional characters in books, films or tv shows helped people get through things like sexual abuse, chemotherapy, suicide and so much more. Representation saves lives and I can attest to this fact both as a spectator and victim of oppression. So when you realize how deep this really is, you feel a greater sense of responsibility and urgency to get it right.
BNP: What sets Hero Nation apart from any other comic con?
Hero Nation: Let me start by saying that there are quite a few progressive cons that are doing great work trying to create more inclusive and safe spaces for various marginalized communities. Cons like MECCAcon, Universal Fan Con, Blerd Con, to name a few, are all doing much needed work. In many ways, we’re all a part of the same collective movement because we all realize that majority of cons aren’t inclusive or safe for people of color, LGBTQ people, women (especially women of color) and people with disabilities. A majority of cons often erase or perpetually undermine and actively oppress underrepresented groups.
[quote_left]Why free? Simple: Everyone’s broke. How often are we discouraged from taking part in things because we’re financially incapable? Hero Nation is free because it has to be.[/quote_left]For Hero Nation, while it is a con, above all else it’s inherently a movement. Even when brainstorming a name, I didn’t want to add “Con” because l wanted to be different and the intent of it extends beyond a singular convention. It’s interesting because initially Hero Nation started off as a superhero themed bike-a-thon. I thought it would be a great idea for people dressed as superheroes to ride through low-income communities spreading optimism. But after much reflection I felt urged to go bigger and dig deeper. I felt while that may have been a cool idea, it probably wouldn’t have been as impactful as what I’m doing now. In part because it wouldn’t be something accessible for everyone.
Moving forward, I plan to build year-round programming for Hero Nation that specifically targets low-income communities and youth. Rather it’s a comic book camp or cosplay workshops, I feel Hero Nation is a platform that could be and do so many things. And who’s to say that the bike-a-thon can’t still happen, it’ll just be a part of the greater movement. I want Hero Nation to have an important place in the Ypsilanti community. And it’s important that diverse community voices have are involved every step of the way.
BNP: How important was it for you to keep the event free and why?
Hero Nation: Simple: Everyone’s broke. How often are we discouraged from taking part in things because we’re financially incapable? And this goes back to my earlier point about expanding the definition of representation and how we can implement inclusivity, which includes economic status. Hero Nation is free because it has to be.
BNP: What would you say is your super power and, if you feel like being this vulnerable, what is your kryptonite?
Hero Nation: My superpower is my imagination. It’s my most powerful ability and it’s why I am where I am. A year ago I made the decision to be a self-employed graphic designer and illustrator. It’s not easy, but it’s forced me to get creative and work harder so that I can pay bills. It’s also given me a privilege that not many people have: time. Time I could use to figure out ways to make the world a better place.
As for my kryptonite, well, I procrastinate a lot, I always try to take on too much at once, I have a poor balance between my work and social life, and I over-empathize to the point where I try to save everyone and often neglect my own needs. I would say I try to be Superman, but even he can’t save everyone. So I do my best to change one life at a time.
Hero Nation will feature a number of exciting things including free arcade games, free console gaming, free workshops, free film screenings, free guest performances, artists exhibitions, and more. Hero Nation will also give free comics to kids, to promote youth literacy and offer free tables to youth artist (with limited availability).
If you’re anywhere near Ypsilanti on Saturday, September 9th, then you should head over to Hero Nation from 1pm-6pm at the Parkridge Community Center and have the time of your life. You can also get involved in the fun by donating to Hero Nation’s toy drive today by helping them reach their goal to acquire 100 toys to give away!