Featured photo: Members of the Anime Aggies pose for a photo. Back row: Aamerah Silas, Solomon Aladekoba, Yasmone Lewis, Front row: Iyanna Fulton, Rose Jackson, Adaeze Uwazie, Sarah Williams (photo by Carolyn de Berry)
When Solomon Aladekoba was in ninth grade, he saw Naruto at a McDonald’s. He had just gotten out of class and ran to the convention center in DC when the world around him began to change. Characters from different manga and anime filled the streets, mingling here and there, getting lunch. It was surreal.
“We just lost our minds,” Aladekoba says. “It was the coolest thing I have ever experienced. Just seeing everyone nerding out in their various little groups, I was like, Oh, I’m with my people. This is dope.”
Ever since then, Aladekoba has been chasing that dragon. In the last decade he’s been to three anime conventions; this Saturday, he’s helping to host one on his home campus. Aladekoba, a sophomore at NC A&T State University, is the treasurer of the Anime Aggies, a club that’s more than 350 members deep. Founded by Rose Jackson in late 2021, the group is carving out a place for the HBCU’s students to celebrate their fandom in a safe space. This Saturday, they will host their very first anime convention on campus.
“It originally started as a small thing for people to come and talk about anime,” Jackson says. “In our community, the Black community, liking anime is kind of frowned upon. So I wanted to open that gateway and say, ‘You can like what you like,’ and start a community to make friendships, open up the conversation.”
Jackson, the president of the club and a junior on campus, grew up in Detroit and went to predominantly Black schools as a kid. When she was introduced to anime through a friend in fifth grade, she became hooked. But soon, she realized that liking the artform was akin to being a social outcast.
“People didn’t understand it,” she says. “If I asked if people liked anime, they would say, ‘No, it’s weird.’ In high school, it was very clear that we were not welcome because it was weird or it was ‘too white.’”
Anime is a Japanese form of animation that dates back to the early 20th Century. Much of the anime seen today is based on Japanese comics, known as manga. Like comic books in the states, they’re a popular form of entertainment that transcends gender and age. But in the US, the medium has only gained popularity in the last two decades with the rise of shows and movies like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Spirited Away and, more recently, Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia.
After being mocked for her affinity for anime, Jackson decided to distance herself from the culture. That was until she found out her dad was also a fan.
“My dad confessed that he likes anime too,” she says. “He had VHS tapes of Speed Racer and his favorite is Akira.”
Since then, Jackson has gotten deeper into the culture and is working to foster that love on campus. Many of the group’s members have never been to a convention, says Jackson, who has been to at least three.
“I want people to feel like they can be themselves,” Jackson says. “I want you to feel invited and enticed to stay. I want you to feel like you can absolutely positively be your most authentic self and not have to hide that.”
The convention will feature a Mario Kart tournament, cosplay contest and vendors to showcase their creations. If this one goes well, the group hopes to continue hosting for the next few years.
Amerah Silas, group member and NC A&T junior, experienced her first convention just last year. She dressed up as Nezuko from Demon Slayer and attended East Gate Comic’s convention in High Point. East Gate is the first Black-owned comic book shop in the Triad.“Growing up I was scared to go to cons,” Silas says. “I was in California in a mostly white town so I grew up watching videos of cons on YouTube.”
Last year when she was finally able to attend her first, Silas says that it made her feel like a kid again.
“It brought out my inner child,” she says. “It brought back that childhood wonder.”
Now as the three prepare to recreate those same feelings at their own convention, they hope others are able to create lasting memories like they have.
“I’m really excited to see the same awe factor because a lot of our members haven’t gone to a convention,” Silas says. “Especially at an HBCU, you’re going to be surrounded by Black nerds so you won’t be the odd one out. I hope it feels warm and inviting and accepting.”
What’s your favorite anime?
- Rose: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and One Piece
- Amerah: Death Note and Attack on Titan
- Solomon: Naruto and Hunter x Hunter
The first Anime Aggies Convention will take place this Saturday on campus in the Deese Ballroom starting at 1 p.m. Tickets, which cost $5, must be purchased online in advance here. Tickets cannot be purchased at the door.
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