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The Alnur African Dance Troupe performs prior to a free youth screening of Black Panther at Rave Cinemas in Ypsilanti, Mich. on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Photo credit: Jerilyn Lynn.

Local 'Black Panther' Screening Empowers Ypsilanti Youth


“I really wanted to do something that connects social activism and superheroes and giving people the opportunity to escape and to, also, uplift the voices of marginalized people,” said the founder of Hero Nation Jermaine Dickerson, following a youth screening of Black Panther in Ypsilanti.

Dickerson, who founded Hero Nation as “an organization and social movement that celebrates superheroes and diversity,” found it within himself to do what was necessary in order to take more than 100 students from Ypsilanti High School to see Black Panther for free on the film’s opening night.

“It was wonderful,” Dickerson said. “Well, leading up to it, of course, there was a lot of work we put into it, a lot of moving parts, but it came together very nicely and everyone had a really great time. It was a lot of emotion involved, a lot of great exchange and, yeah, it was a great time.”

Hero Nation, still in its infancy, was designed to be an organization that would put on an annual, free comic convention in metro Detroit, but not just any comic convention.

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After a successful first convention in September of 2017, where attendees were treated to free toys, school supplies, comic books, vendors, panels, a movie screening and a video game tournament with prizes like a PlayStation 4, Dickerson immediately got to work on his idea to take students from his community to see the then-upcoming Black Panther film in February for free.

After getting in contact with someone at Rave Cinemas in Ypsilanti, Dickerson received a quote of $2,600. That quote included the rental of one auditorium at Rave Cinemas and concessions for all attendees.

“And that was on a Friday and she said, ‘You need to have this paid in full by the following Wednesday,’” Dickerson said. “I said, ‘Whoa. You want me to have almost $3,000 in four to five days?’

While the task seemed insurmountable, that didn’t deter Dickerson.

“I decided to take a step out on faith and I got on Twitter and I said, ‘Hey, y’all. I need to raise $3,000 in five days to take kids to see Black Panther,’” Dickerson said. “And within, like, two hours we raised $3,500.”

Dickerson says that, within a week, the crowdfunding campaign had reached about $10,000 before being capped off at $10,500.

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The Kuungana African Drum and Dance Company perform prior to a free youth screening of Black Panther in Ypsilanti, Mich. on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Photo credit: Jerilyn Lynn.

Dickerson put all that extra money to good use. “Goodie bags,” which included comic books, toys, black literature, Black Panther posters signed by their respective artists, Black Panther bookbags and more, were given to the attendees. Dickerson also enlisted two dance troupes, the Kuungana African Drum and Dance Company and the Alnur African Dance Troupe, to perform before the screening, purchased items to give away to a few lucky students and provided food for everyone after the screening.

For Dickerson, the fact that all of Hero Nation’s events so far have been free of charge goes back to Hero Nation’s core value of inclusion.

“It sort of relates to accessibility, ’cause, in regards to representation, we also wanted to make the event accessible for low-income communities,” Dickerson said. “So, really, every event that we do, I’m taking into mind the multi-faceted approach to inclusion, which includes racial, gender, sexual orientation and diversity, but also social status and economic status.”

Amidst all of the night’s activities, Dickerson wanted to be sure he took time to hear what the students took away from the film.

…just seeing a whole lot of black people, seeing Africa celebrated as not a country, ’cause it’s not, but a diaspora of cultures, a collection of different cultures and people and voices and perspectives. Seeing Wakanda as this allegory for black power in regards to black liberation — I think that’s what [the kids] spoke about the most,” Dickerson recounts. “And also seeing the bad**s women, you know, take command and be present and…not having their agency rely on what’s happening with the guy in the story. They were their own, fully-realized characters and a lot of that resonated with the students.”

But, why do any of this? Why create an organization, like Hero Nation, with the goal of promoting diversity through the genre of superhero fiction?

“I know that we’re sometimes waiting for others to do something for us to create change or to change our own lives, but we have the power ourselves in a lot of ways, too,” Dickerson said. “We don’t always have to wait on others. You have that power within you. You have that hero within you to bring forth that change. So, why don’t you celebrate that because you deserve to value your life and the power you possess and you deserve to recognize it once you do discover it.”

Looking to the future, Dickerson has a lot of ideas for what Hero Nation can become.

“What are different ways that we could relay our message of superheroes and self-empowerment through different mediums?” Dickerson said. “I think that’s both fun and it’s scary, but I think we’re at a stage where we can take risks now because we are just getting started. It’s all about building the foundation. What happens this year, I think, will determine how Hero Nation moves forward in the next years to come.”

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