Speaker Kaelin Polk talks about black characters in different anime and anime-inspired television series. (Ashly Hernandez / The Poly Post)

Giving black nerds a voice at AASC’s BLERD Week

Black nerds … Assemble!

Last week, the African American Student Center (AASC) made that happen with Cal Poly
Pomona’s first-ever BLERD Week.

The term “blerd” is a combination of the words “black” and “nerd,” which ultimately means black nerd.

The week provided students with opportunities to share favorite books and podcasts by African American authors and podcasters, as well as a cosplay luncheon for them to dress up and discuss “nerdiness and geek culture” within the black community.

“We wanted to reach out and show different aspects of black culture,” said Kaelin Polk, a graduating business management and human resources student. “At conventions you see black college students and see that this is something that brings them joy. It shows you can be black and still like anime.”

Speaker Kaelin Polk talks about black characters in different anime and anime-inspired television series. (Ashly Hernandez / The Poly Post)

Along with the book and podcast exchanges, BLERD Week allowed for discussions of black characters in anime, television, cartoons, comic books and movies.

The AASC provided lunch on Thursday in Ursa Major A during U-hour, along with a presentation and Q&A.

Attendees were encouraged to dress up, or cosplay (a term coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi and combines the words “costume” and “play”), as their favorite character.

Costumes ranged from Winnie the Pooh to television favorites and anime hotshots.

“I choose characters to my liking,” said Brandon Willis, a fifth-year construction engineering technology student. “Cosplay’s for everyone and it doesn’t matter if you’re the same color as that character.”

Students who cosplayed were asked to present themselves onstage and were given a prize after the luncheon.

The hour also gave students a chance to voice their opinions on cosplay and “being a blerd” in a society that might not accept these interests.

Some admitted that it is somewhat taboo to say that they like anime and such. But others revealed they were able to get family and friends into it.

Representation is currently a huge topic in the media. Individuals want to see someone they can relate to in popular culture.

It’s been a year since the release of the Marvel film “Black Panther,” a superhero blockbuster
with a predominantly black cast.

It features the first black superhero to lead a film in the Marvel cinematic universe.

The film received outstanding reviews and positive feedback in terms of representation, not only for its casting, but for the directing by Ryan Coogler and a soundtrack featuring black artists.

The year 2018 also introduced the character of Miles Morales, an Afro-Latinx teenager, who took up the helm of probably the most popular character of the Marvel universe, Spider-Man. Sony Pictures and Marvel had reached a licensing agreement which brought Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to the Marvel cinematic universe, making Holland the third actor to portray Peter Parker in live-action films, but the first to be part of the Marvel franchise.

Introducing Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War,” a 2016 film, created new hype for the character and the success of his own 2017 film, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” kept the
buzz alive.

But having a young, biracial student struggle with growing up and dealing with his own self-confidence resonated with young black, Latinx and biracial individuals.

The time and effort put into the animation and detail of the film made it all the more special to multiethnic Spider-Man fans.

“With Miles Morales … you see him wear the Nikes and dress like how you see young black folk dress,” AASC Coordinator Tashiana Bryant Myrick said. “Seeing themselves represented, it helps students become comfortable with expressing themselves.”

The AASC will round off Black History Month with “Black at the Intersection: UnDocuBLACK” with Joel Sati. The meeting, coordinated alongside the Bronco Dreamers Resource Center, is from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Bronco Student Center, Ursa Minor. “UnDocuBLACK” deals with another infrequently discussed topic about being black and undocumented.

The AASC hopes to continue BLERD Week next year and raise awareness about black individuals in the nerd and geek communities.

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