On February 26, 2017, Superhero Day took place at Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse (2578 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA, from 12p.m.-2p.m.). This event, hosted by Allstate through hometown native Brian Beard, honored Ariell Johnson (owner of Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse) as one of the three inspirational Black change makers chosen by Allstate to celebrate Black History month through their annual digital campaign, #WorthTelling. Ms. Johnson was being honored for her commitment to raising awareness diversity and representation for the comic book scene.
As the main event, a panel was convened to discuss the necessity of and current state of inclusion. The panel was moderated by Len ‘Cruze’ Webb (Bat Tribble of the Black Tribbles podcast), and the panel members were Arielle Johnson, Maurice Waters (President of Black Sci-Fi) and Karama Horne (The Blerd Gurl).
I talked with Mr. Waters and Ms. Horne discussing their involvement with the Allstate-sponsored event, and got their thoughts a few other things about Superhero Day.
BlackSci-Fi.com: How did Black Sci-Fi come to be involved with Allstate’s #WorthTelling event?
Maurice Waters (President of BlackSci-Fi.com): Well, actually, Allstate reached out to me and asked if I would like to be involved in this event. I said yes of course, because I think this is a great event, and I think it’s necessary to celebrate Ariell and to recognize that, not only is this an important business, but she’s making history at the same time.
So, for her to have that kind of insight (with what she is doing broadening inclusion in the comic book industry), I think it’s great in that this is something for which we have to fight, and we always try to, you know, find examples of people who are working in the fight and inspire people to do something like this. So, this was a perfect fit for us as well. The people on the panel were people we wanted Black Sci-Fi to be involved with as well.
Karama Horne (@THEBLERDGURL/ The Blerd Gurl): I was invited by both Arielle and Len to participate. I was called by them, and I confirmed with them.
BSF: What does it mean for you to be here today?
KH: It actually means a lot to me, that people want to hear my voice and my opinion on the subject (of diversity in the comic book medium). I definitely work really hard to try and get my voice out there more and shine a light on indie creators. So, I was invited and figured it worked.
Last, but not least, I was able to gets some thoughts from the woman of the hour as well on what this honor and this day meant to her.
BSF: How do you feel about being an honoree for this event, #WorthTelling?
Ariell Johnson: (Allstate’s guest of honor for #WorthTelling campaign and owner of Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse): I am honored to be an honoree. When they reached out to us (Amalgam), you know it is definitely a surprise since we’re a baby business, so we haven’t been doing this long, but the fact that despite that, you know, I guess its wild that we garnered enough attention that a big name like Allstate took interest. It is really cool.
BSF: Why do you feel raising awareness about diversity and representation through comics is so important?
AJ: Because I think that anyone that enjoys a medium should see themself reflected in it, and I don’t look at representation as a formula, it’s an actual representation of the world we live in. For the fact that so many of the things we read and write are so White-centric, it’s just not realistic.
That is not the world that we live on. So, I think it’s important for everybody’s story to be told, that it speaks to you. I think your self-esteem and how society values you is influenced by having your story told and featured. So, I think it’s just necessary. I’m extremely supportive of that. You need to go in that direction, and it shouldn’t be needed. I want to get to a place where people don’t talk about it (diversity) because it is happening.
BSF: You appeared on a Marvel cover. How did that feel about that and what positive impact do you feel that had in the Black community?
AJ: So, as a Marvel girl, that was awesome. I mean that was kind of such a milestone, that I think in a lot of ways I’m still processing it because it doesn’t seem real. For the Black community, I think it was just exciting because people are really excited about the store and you know what we’re trying to do here, in fact, that it is a Black woman owning a store in an industry. That is not a thing, you know.
They like to see that a Black woman owns a comic book store, and it is on the East Coast. That is not a thing. So, you
know, people feel excited about it and encouraged, and we are on the right path. (With the cover) I guess the significance of being the first Black woman to own a comic bookstore along side Riri Williams who is the new Iron Man, is an extremely significant event.
BSF: How do you feel about being a role model, a hero for another little Black girl, like Storm was for you, and being an agent of change in a changing community?
AJ: I am honored. I do know when I started the store, that was definitely not what I was thinking, that I would be a role model at all. I just wanted to open the store, but I definitely understand why that it has gone where it has. Seeing that people would see me as a hero, that is weird to say.
That I would be viewed as an agent of change, I am honored by that, and I take it seriously. I think about that and everything that we do here at the shop and you know making sure that we are staying true to our core values and who we are as people, and being true to the spirit of the store and what we originally established it to be.
I was also able to get a few words from the Allstate representative and agency owner, Brian W. Beard Sr., who, as mentioned earlier, hales from West Philadelphia though he now currently lives and serves in the community of East Falls. He gave his thoughts on why he felt that Arielle Johnson was a perfect pick for the #WorthTelling campaign run by Allstate.
BSF: What was it about Arielle Johnson that made you choose her as one of the three honorees for the #WorthTelling campaign for Black History month?
Brian W. Beard Sr.:What we are doing is we’re taking individuals that are making an impact, such as Arielle Johnson. She is making such a strong difference in a changing neighborhood, and she is a trailblazer who is bringing real inclusion in the comic book community, both as a woman and an African American. She is breaking down doors for others and that is the most amazing thing.
BSF: What is so important about this campaign?
BWB: It being Black History month, we at Allstate wanted to celebrate individuals who are creating opportunities for others, such as with another one of our three honorees, Isaac White, Sr., a barber out of New Orleans, Louisiana (who started a barbering school). He is taking young men from his neighborhood, and training them to be young entrepreneurs, to develop pride and independence.
It is very important to show that journey, the work that it takes. As a native Philadelphian, a professional, I took that same entrepreneurial risk and followed a dream. It is a path filled with trials and tribulations, and that is what I and Allstate admired about Arielle. She was a woman in a niche industry that has become popular, and she has demonstrated to the community, the work of that trying journey and how to have success in it, being both a woman and African American. She shows how to take pride as you walk that path.
BSF: What do you hope to accomplish with this campaign?
BWB: Allstate wants to show that good business is being involved with the community and showing that you care. I feel that I demonstrate that with my involvement in my community of East Falls. A lot of good business is also just being willing to listening. Sometimes people come to my office just to talk.
We try to show that value of the people we serve. Allstate shows they’re being involved in real customer service in a number of ways, such as being involved with fighting against domestic violence and Purple Purse. Allstate wants to use the various modern apps to show the everyday value in the community, hence the digital campaign and the hashtag #WorthTelling.
With me personally, I am involved with Helping Hands through Allstate. That group gives a thousand dollars to a deserving nonprofit each year. By agent or financial specialist volunteering for a minimum of four hours in the calendar year, they can apply for the one thousand dollars for the non-profit organization, and this year Allstate is investing six and a half million dollars in that program. People can see when you honestly care, when you make a genuine effort to be involved in programs like these, and make sure that they are successful. We want to show our true values by truly being involved.
Last year, I was also involved with Quote for Cause. With this group, for every quote that was earned, a certain percentage was donated to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), in amounts of tens of thousands of dollars. This was very important to me seeing as I am an alumnus of an HBCU, Hampton University, which was known as Hampton Institute when I attended.
The success of an event and its purpose can be also gauged through those experiencing it on the other side of the microphone. I asked some of the audience members of the Superhero Day panel for some of their thoughts about the best part of the day that they experienced.
Keithfromupdablock: I’ve have been here today just being inspired. What Arielle has done was always great inspiration, especially when you have a daughter who is nineteen or so. Seeing things that Arielle has been able to do here gives me like inspiration and information, a role model, with which to have a talk about with my daughter. It makes me feel good about the world.
Corin Wilson: You know, it’s just really great to be here and just see how excited everyone else is here. You know we got superheroes of all sizes here. I think it’s pretty awesome, it’s the kind of idea that we can all be as strong as we feel, which is really empowering you know!
Adam Rivera: I am just really excited about Superhero Day and the cookies!
Akeem Brown (Vice President of the East Coast Black Age of Comic Conference): The best thing about this to me and others in the Philadelphia community is that it is important to be able to support like-minded businesses like mine, especially in the storytelling industry. That’s really what it’s all about, I’m talking about being able to come together and share each other’s best findings. I could say that we’re always in the process of trying to grow our businesses, wherein as artists, it’s important to make sure we work with each other so we can all grow.
Lisa Flowers-Shipanga (came with a home school group): The best part is actually just awareness of knowing that there are like Black comics. I did not know about them, except like the few that I’ve seen in the mainstream (comics). I forget who they are, except that unbreakable guy (Luke Cage) and somebody else. It’s been very eye opening and kind of inspiring too.
Toni Bryant & Sirod (a couple)
Toni: I’m here today because of like minds. That has been the absolute best part of this and meeting like minds of like hues is also so important.
Sirod: I’m here today because if people could be able to go to a Black-themed comics store, that’s always a great thing. So, I will be coming back for more.
The promotion and the celebration of true diversity and representation seemed to have inspired everyone. It was Superhero Day at Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse, but the real Superheroes of the day were truly Ms. Arielle Johnson, a dedicated Black woman who is making what we watch, read, and intake, truly mirror everyone’s reality, and Allstate through Brian W. Beard Sr. who made sure that her story was recognized and celebrated as a story that was #WorthTelling. In the words of Ice Cube, “Today was a good day.”
Rorie Still was born in West Philadelphia, PA to Barbara and David Still. She has a bachelor’s in Psychology from North Carolina A & T State University and a master’s degree in Elementary Education from Lincoln University. Rorie worked as an elementary school teacher within the Philadelphia School District from 2010 to 2013, serving as the writing teacher at James Alcorn Elementary School for the majority of that time period.
Rorie Still’s passion for the written word began in the second grade, when strongly encouraged by her teacher; she produced her first short story “Merk and the Vampire Dogs”. As evidenced by the title, Rorie has always had a fascination with horror, fantasy, and science fiction concepts, and this has been the main genre in which she has written. One of her later stories was first introduced to the public through a science and speculative fiction writing contest, which she won. Rorie read this story during the Black Tribbles first “Octavia City” podcast on G-town radio. “Flashbang: Sci-Fi Stories That Will Blow Your Mind!” is her first compiled and published work. There will be many more to follow.