Charles Conley loves cosplay.
For those who don't know, cosplay involves taking on the look and personality of fictional characters, particularly at sci-fi conventions.
It's pretty popular.
But here's just one small note about Conley: He's black. And because he's black, he's prone to dressing up like characters who aren't typically impersonated by black people... like Batman.
But Conley does it anyway, even if he has to deal with "bigots" who try to persuade him from doing so.
And why does he insist? Representation.
Last month, Conley finally saw how much that representation mattered to a young person of color who stopped him at DragonCon, a popular fiction convention that's held in Atlanta every year.
In a Facebook post describing his interaction with the boy and his mother, Conley wrote,
I could see him point at his hand (the skin) and then pointing to me. I approached and he was a little intimdated [sic] at first, as any little kid is when meeting a life-sized armored character. I knelt down and reached out my hand for a high five. With all the force he could muster, he slapped my hand with the biggest smile on his face.
Things only got more emotional for Conley from there. In fact, he was so emotional, he couldn't help but break character.
The boy, who was no more than "5 or 6" years of age, asked Conley a tear-jerker of a question.
Having finally seen a character that looked like him, the kid wanted to know only one thing: Could he be a superhero now, too?
His words touched the deepest part of my soul. I then ignored my #1 Batman rule and removed my cowl so he could see my face. His face lit up, and I teared up even more. I looked this kid dead in the eye and said, 'You can be any superhero you want to be and dont ever let anyone tell you different. Being a brown superhero is a very special thing and I know you're going to make a great one.'
Conley's full Facebook post detailing the experience is below.
Most importantly, Conley walked away from that weekend in Atlanta with more than just a heartwarming story to tell about a single child. He left with a lesson that can impact all children.
Representation matters way more than people might think, he explained:
These kids are growing up in a country where you can so easily feel like "less than" because your skin is darker. Police brutality and racism are being made ever so visible by today's multimedia outlets and these kids aren't blind, they take that in. For kids like this little boy, the idea that you can one day be a superhero, no matter what your skin color is, opens up a whole new world for them. This is why I cosplay.
Here's hoping he never stops.
Citations: Huffington Post