First-ever Wakandacon celebrates black creativity, diversity

CHICAGO — The Marvel blockbuster "Black Panther" inspired the first-ever Wakandacon at the downtown Hilton Sunday in Chicago.

"We’re taking the experiences and the themes explored in 'Black Panther' and starting bigger conversations about them," Wakandacon co-creator Ali Barthwell said.

Barthwell said the convention was thought up and coordinated in just four months before bringing more than 2,000 people to the convention.

"I knew it was going to be this big it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s awe inspiring," Lisa Beasley said.

Like the movie, the convention is meant to inspire the creative and positive, and celebrate the African American community. The convention took place nearby Lollapalooza downtown.

"We’ve actually had some lollapalooza people coming over and exploring and checking out panels and everyone’s welcome at wakandacon," co-creator David Barthwell said. "We have a fabulous mix of people."

Among them was Larry Willet, Jr., who started a small business at only 19 years old, dressing up to entertain at parties and other events.

"My mom always told me to be an entrepreneur and so i made my own company and started to have my own characters," Willet said.

Another young entrepreneur, 14-year-old Aaliyah Merrick, sold inspiring illustrations at the convention.

"A lot of people walking by and saying, 'ooo! This looks like me, or this looks like someone I know," Merrick said. "Watching them to see them compare it to themselves, it’s a very interesting thing to watch."

Other entertainers like "The Vixen" stopped at the convention as they move towards making a name for themselves nationwide.

" I wish this was around when I was growing up," they said. "It’s so inspiring for kids to see they can be so many different things.. They can be artists, they can be drag queens… they can be dancers, they can make clothes and celebrate their own culture, it’s just beautiful."

Creators hope such inspiring messages are just the start.

"We’re just so thrilled that people came out to support us and they believed in our vision and they showed up," Barthwell said.