Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sci-Fi Sunday: Interview with MECCACon Creator Maia Williams

The third annual Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts (MECCAcon) is slowly approaching its big day for 2016, September 17th. I caught up with founder Maia "Crown" Williams, a Detroit native who is a community-minded visionary. My guess is that she is an actual superhero. Along with MECCACon, she's a chef, jeweler, executive assistant, and owner of Amonyet Enterprises, Crown’s Royalties and Cooking Ciphers

You've mentioned before that you grew up a hardcore bookworm. With your passion for comics and speculative fiction, what would you say are some titles and authors that led to the work you're doing now?

Growing up, I always read novels. I didn't get heavy into comics until I was older. I discovered black indie scene in my adulthood and went stone crazy, lol. I had no idea such a beautiful and LARGE community existed, and for how long. I learned of people in the community like John Jennings, Mshindo Kuumba, Shawn Alleyne, Regine Sawyer, Jason Reeves, N Steven Harris, Afua Richardson, Brandon Thomas, David Walker, Kenjji, Micheline Hess, and a slew of others. It was and still is so very empowering.

The Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts is extremely community-oriented. What do you envision for future generations that participate in the event and how have you seen your efforts empower them?

As far as me empowering them, I am strong enough in my spirit to know that I have been a positive influence in these babies lives and mental/creative growth. They know this is why I do it, and I believe they appreciate it because of that very fact. I see it in their faces, year after year, at my conventions, for the past 5+ years.

They run around the room in bewilderment, not believing that they are actually at a convention, in their hood, filled with creators that look like them. They're talking to artists, writers, publishers, graffiti artists, filmmakers, dancers, etc, people who have "made it," knowing now that they truly can too. 

Many are college grads, many  are not but they all have been successful with their craft. I envision nothing but greatness in today's black youth, white youth, Asian youth, Asiatic youth, indigenous youth, and all the rest of these babies out here. As long as they believe, then they will be just fine. As for blacks, well, we were destined for greatness, so it's already in the script.

The MECCAcon International Film Festival has a much-needed unique objective in selecting films that focus on stories about and cater to youth of color as "heroes." Was adding a film festival a part of the original concept of MECCAcon? Is there a story behind the mission of the film festival?

MECCAcon International Film Festival was always a part of the plan. Unfortunately, our first year in 2014, I didn't have a venue that would accommodate it all. We instead had a full art instillation. We also had live jazz, African martial arts demonstration, and hip hop ciphers, all outside at the absolutely stunning Paradise Valley Park.

In 2015, I was finally able to execute the film festival. Famed and award winning independent filmmaker, Ka'Ramuu Kush was my savior. I was his student for real. He taught me the ins and outs of film festivals, how they needed to be correctly executed, and helped me get a lot of my selections last year. Because of those connections last year, they built even more connections for this year and moving forward. The mission and purpose of the festival is to expose the public to this wonderful thing known as indie life. I have many friends who love going to the movies, but aren't heavily exposed to independent creations. Shorts are my favorite films in life. It takes a lot of skill to tell a full story and point of view in 8 minutes. It is astounding the level of skills short film writers, directors, and producers have. I have a blast preparing for the festivals. It is one of my favorite parts of MECCAcon.

You truly are an inspiration for those who feel like they don't have a lot of money or resources to start an event in their community. What are some of the first steps in regards to advice you would give to these folks to encourage them to start?

Get a business license. If you cannot afford a LLC, get an assumed name. They're about $25, and you also get a tax I.D. If you have a unique name you want to protect, this is the best way to do it. Best investment is investing in self. 

You also have to put a lot of time into your event. Don't automatically think that your "friends and family" will support you. Reach out to the public. Blast it on all social media outlets. Social media is free. There is no reason not to use it to benefit you. Be firm with vendors. Be professional. Keep a constant contact with the venue for updates. 

Start small. Don't come out of the gate your first time trying to make a grand production. Have confidence that you will succeed, and you will. Collect your community of resources and do the best you can to get this community to work together. 

Lastly, don't take it to heart when people you know personally don't support you.

What do you have planned for this year's event that's new or expands on the success of last year's festivities?

(In my Coming to America voice, while stomping) Brandon Thomas! BRANDON! THOMAS!
I seriously adore that brotha.)

Well, we have an expanded and more comprehensive catalog of official selections for the film festival. I will have a networking hour set up for attendees who are coming to do just that. We will have live art with famed artist, Jason Phillips. Might have a barber for the children. My mind is always community oriented so I overdo it at times. 

MECCAcon will also have our Women In Comics panel again which was very well received. Also expect about 50 vendors from all across the United States. We have some of the best in the business, as always. I don't believe in seat filling just to get some money. I never have operated like that and never will. Diversity is the key with MECCAcon, and I will always stand by that. While the majority of our participants are black/moors/African, we also have other cultures as well. We also never shun the LGBT/queer community like other conventions make a habit of doing. As far as the biggest difference between this year and our first two years, I plan to flat out CHILL, lol. I need to learn to enjoy my hard work.

Important to note is our Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM) panel. BSAM is the other convention I throw with my business partner, Reynaldo Anderson (Unveiling Visions, Afrofuturism 2.0). Our next convention will be on November 12 at Temple University, and at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, February 18, 2017.

Maia notes, "With MECCAcon as well as BSAM (Black Speculative Arts Movement), although severely diverse in all aspects, I do focus very strongly on creators of the African diaspora. It wasvery important to me that I do that. I am and always will be unapologetic about putting my own culture first and foremost in every last thing I do. My black.girl.magic ain't to be toyed with. No matter the outcome, no matter the turnout, please note: I came to slay."

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